Emancipation is a family law term that describes the process by which a child may become independent of his parents or guardians for legal purposes. The judicial process of emancipation confers on the minor the responsibility for his own welfare, assuming he is self-supporting. When a minor is granted emancipation from parents, he takes on the rights, privileges, responsibilities, and accountability of adulthood. Emancipation of a minor is granted only when certain conditions have been met. To explore this concept, consider the following emancipation definition.

Definition of Emancipation


  1. The state of being freed from the restraint or control of another, especially parental control.


Early 17th Century Latin ēmancipātiōn

Emancipation Laws

Each state has different laws dealing with the emancipation of a minor, all of which specify what conditions must be met before children may become independent of their parents for legal purposes. While it is commonly held that children in the U.S. become emancipated from their parents when they reach the age of majority, many states have emancipation laws that allow the court to grant legal emancipation early. In this process, a judge reviews the circumstances of an application for emancipation, and ultimately decides whether releasing the minor from the care and control of his parents is in the child’s best interest.

Benefits of Emancipation of a Minor

When a minor is emancipated, he gains legal rights that he might not otherwise have. The benefits of emancipation of a minor include the authority to enter into contracts, sign rental agreements, enroll in school without consent of their parents, and apply for public benefits. An emancipated minor can also keep the income that he earns, and make his own healthcare decisions. For the parents, benefits of emancipation of one of their children may include relief from a financial burden, since they will no longer be required to support the child. Parents paying child support also benefit, as support payments are not required once a child has been emancipated.

Factors of Legal Emancipation Considered by the Court

When a minor wishes to become emancipated, a petition must be filed by the parents, the minor, or a guardian ad litem. In some states, only a parent can file the petition with the court. The petition must include evidence of the circumstances surrounding the request. After the petition is filed, the court holds a hearing in which it reviews all of the evidence presented and determines whether legal emancipation from parents serves the best interests of the child. To make this decision, certain factors are considered by the court, including:

  • Where the minor is currently living, and whether adequate housing arrangements have been made
  • Whether the minor is able to support himself financially without resorting to welfare or criminal activities
  • The age and maturity of the minor
  • Whether the minor has good decision-making skills
  • Whether the minor has graduated from high school, or has received a diploma
  • Whether a minor female is pregnant, and whether she will be able to care for herself and her baby
  • Whether abuse by the parents has led the minor to seek emancipation

Age Requirements

Most commonly, a court will not consider legal emancipation unless the minor is at least 16 years of age. Some states, however, have different minimum age requirements. For example, California allows for emancipation in some circumstances at the age of 14. Whatever the age of the minor applicant, the court must consider the other important factors to help ensure the minor will be able to care for and support himself. In addition to the age requirements, other special circumstances may be considered, such as in the case of child actors, whose substantial personal income needs to be protected from irresponsible or greedy parents.

In certain circumstances an individual may not be seen as able to care for himself, due to mental illness or developmental disability, and so emancipation may be delayed beyond the age of majority. Such an individual may apply to the court for emancipation, which may be granted if the condition is not so debilitating as to prevent adult decision-making capability. The court may grant emancipation to allow the individual to have control over his life.

Implied Emancipation

In many requests for emancipation from parents, the conduct of the parents gives rise to implied emancipation. This occurs when parents fail to exercise their right and responsibility to control and provide for their child. Such conduct may include desertion, abandonment, and other questionable conduct.

Other circumstances that create implied emancipation include enlistment in the military, marriage of the minor, or pregnancy in some states. When any of these life changes occur, the state sees the formation of a new relationship between the child and another party, which dissolves the existing parent/child relationship. Leaving the home by running away does not constitute implied emancipation.

Express Emancipation

A circumstance in which parents agree to allow the child to leave home may be considered express emancipation. This may take place for many reasons, including financial purposes or tension in the family home. The parents may stipulate the conditions the child must adhere to, such as requiring the child to remain in high school until graduation. The court only becomes involved in an express emancipation if the purposes for, or conditions under which emancipation was granted come under question.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Guardian Ad Litem – A person appointed by a court to represent a minor child. They are often involved in cases of abuse, custody, or emancipation.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Age of Majority – The age at which an individual is recognized by law to be an adult, capable of managing, and being responsible for, his own affairs.