Raising teenagers can be challenging. A teen’s desire for independence and autonomy can run counter to parent’s desire to protect and teach them. In many families, these two conflicting desires, teen independence vs. parental authority, results in arguing, rebellious behavior by the teen, and frustration in the parents. But sometimes the rift widens and the teen may seek emancipation from their parents.
So how should both parents and teens begin exploring the possibility together? “We recommend that any teen who is considering emancipation, first talk with a trusted adult to discuss the pros and cons of the decision,” Mara Ziegler, a senior social worker with the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel, tells Parentology. “Additionally, it’s important to seek free legal advice from a nonprofit law firm like Public Counsel to support them through the process.”
When a teen is legally emancipated from their parents or guardian, they become legally independent before they turn 18, which is the legal age of majority. Parents or guardians of an emancipated teen are not legally or financially responsible for the teen and the teen is free to live on their own and make decisions with no parental involvement.
To become an emancipated minor there are several steps the teen and their parents must legally undertake and the final decision rests with the court system. In most states, to begin the process, the teen must file a declaration of emancipation with the court and a hearing date will be set. At the hearing the judge will ask for evidence that the teen is financially stable and has a safe place to live.
If a family judge decides it’s not in the best interest of the teen, they can deny the application for emancipation even if all the necessary steps have been completed. If your teen is questioning whether emancipation is the right choice for them, there are a few things they should know in advance.
Emancipated teens must be financially independent and have money available to pay rent and utilities, pay for their health care or insurance, and all other costs associated with day-to-day life. Likewise, they are able to be sued and will be personally responsible for court fees and liens or judgements against them.
Child Labor Laws
Despite their emancipated status, emancipated teens are still required by law to follow child labor laws, which limit the number of hours teens can work for pay. Parents of emancipated teens are under no obligation to provide financial support and the teen must be able to make enough money to support themselves. Government benefits are not guaranteed to emancipated minors and therefore may not be available to offset costs.
High School Truancy
Most states have compulsory high school attendance regardless of emancipated status. While there are a handful of states that allow teens to quit school at age 16 or 17, most require attendance until age 18. If a teenager leaves school before the legal age in their state they are considered a truant which can result in legal problems, fine, or loss of driving privileges.
Marriage and Military
An emancipated teen is not allowed to get married or join the U.S. military without parental consent. However, if an unemancipated teen obtains parental consent for marriage or military service they become emancipated.
Emancipation through the court system can be a long and financially trying process that may or may not actually result in emancipation. If your child is exploring emancipation, consider consulting with an attorney and a family therapist or social worker to explore your options.