Traditionally, parents have a legal and moral obligation to raise their children until the age of 18. After a child reaches the legal age of an adult, however, parents may continue to play the role of guardian and provider for several more years, providing for advanced education or housing adult children until they are financially independent.
A child may choose to move out of the family home before he or she is legally an adult, but parents still have obligations until that child has reached the age of majority.
But some teenagers are no longer subject to the laws governing parental responsibility. They are considered to be ’emancipated minors’ and are seen as legal adults under most circumstances. Emancipated minors are still restricted from age-defined activities such as alcohol or tobacco purchases, but they are allowed to enter into contracts and leases without parental consent, and they can also make medical decisions on their own.
Emancipated minors must prove that they are financially independent and mature enough to handle adult-level responsibilities. While laws governing emancipated minors vary from state to state, in general, there are three circumstances in which emancipated status is recognized:
1. Minors who are legally married are considered emancipated. This isn’t a legal declaration as much as a natural outcome of marriage. Once a minor becomes legally married, parents are no longer obligated to provide housing or financial support. Medical insurance coverage may be transferred to the emancipated minor or spouse.
Married minors can make legal decisions concerning rental agreements or mortgages. This doesn’t guarantee that loan officers or other agents will automatically enter into a contract with an emancipated minor, only that the minor has the same financial rights as an adult. Age can still be used as a determining factor for eligibility. Parents cannot override any contract entered in good faith by an emancipated minor.
Becoming an emancipated minor through marriage also prevents an older spouse from facing criminal charges. Once a minor becomes emancipated, the legal spouse cannot be charged with statutory rape or other sexual offenses involving age. Parents who suspect an abusive situation can still contact the proper authorities, but they cannot use statutory rape laws to retaliate against a legal spouse. Emancipated minor status only lasts until the age of majority, generally 18.
2. A minor on active military duty is considered emancipated. In general, the military limits recruitment to those who are 18 or older, but occasionally a minor will be accepted into a reserve or delayed entry program. Some minors have also been known to mislead recruiters about their true age.
No matter how a minor becomes inducted into military service, being called to active duty automatically makes him or her emancipated. Considering that the vast majority of fellow servicemen will be over the age of 18, this may solve a lot of problems for the minor. An emancipated minor can legally grant power of attorney, which may prove vitally important if he or she is sent to a dangerous location. Emancipated minors can take out life insurance policies and draw up legal wills.
3. Minors who can demonstrate maturity and financial independence can become emancipated. Becoming an emancipated minor may only involve making an informed declaration in some states. If a 15-year-old worker at a fast-food restaurant can afford a room in a boarding house, he or she can declare emancipated minor status.
This is usually done as a result of a broken or abusive home environment or in a situation where the minor child has the maturity to live outside of the home. This is more often referred to as ‘divorce the parents’. A responsible minor child may need to take drastic action in order to escape years of continued neglect or abuse. This is not a step to be taken lightly, but the option is there for minors who can support themselves and
genuinely have few alternatives.
Emancipated minors are more common in fields where a child can earn a significant salary, such as professional sports, entertainment or modeling.
It’s not unusual for child actors or models to seek legal emancipation status. In some states, such as California, minors seeking emancipation must demonstrate financial independence as well as a level of maturity. Responsible adults may be called character references, along with current employers.
Emancipated minors must demonstrate long-term employment and residency plans. Young actors working on a television series or models working regularly in reputable agencies can easily demonstrate this level of maturity and financial responsibility.
If they remain under the control of an ambitious parent, they could face serious financial losses or legal problems with unauthorized contracts. Professional minors often need to become emancipated in order to handle their sudden wealth or to hire professional handlers and accountants.