Generally children are under the legal care of their parents until they turn 18 years old. In special circumstances a child may need to gain legal control of their lives before this age. Reasons could include a desire to marry before 18 without the consent of parents, entering the military or financial reasons. Gaining legal independence from parents before turning 18 is known as emancipation.
Courts are generally hesitant about granting emancipation, but teenagers with strong reasons may have their requests granted. The Court will require that these teens prove that being emancipated in their best interests before entering an order recognizing them as independent adults.
Every case is different and the Judge should consider the special circumstances of each case. A few possible situations that could convince a Judge to grant an emancipation include:
Financial independence: this is often seen with child stars or children who inherit large amounts of money but don’t trust their parents to manage it for them for some reason, but is not limited to the very rich. It is possible for a minor to inherit a sum of money or property but not have the ability to fully claim those funds due to their minority. A court order of emancipation allows them to act as an adult and claim their inheritance.
Marriage: if the child has married prior to becoming an adult legally they can request emancipation. Most States require that the minor’s parents consent to the marriage and having done so they have little say in the emancipation of the child as it is a little difficult to say that the minor was adult enough to marry but is not adult enough to be independent.
Parental abandonment: if the parents are nowhere to be found and the child has been taking care of themselves they can request that the Court recognize their independence.
The Judge has the discretion to grant emancipation or not and there is no real appeals process. The Judge should use the child’s best interest as the standard to determine whether to grant the request or not.
First the teen must qualify for emancipation by meeting the age requirement. Every State has a certain age that must be reached before the Court can consider emancipation. In many States the minimum age is 16 years old. If the teen meets the age requirement they must file a request for emancipation with the Court. This is a rather complicated document that should be prepared by an attorney. After the request for emancipation is filed a hearing will be set and the judge will hear from the teen and potentially their parents and then reach a decision.
Chris McHam is the lead attorney for McHam Law, a Round Rock, Texas based law firm focusing on family law, criminal defense, probate matters and civil litigation in Travis County, Williamson County, Hays County and Bell County.