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Emancipation: Legal Independence for Minor Children

These days, the definitions of a traditional family and the definition of traditional values are constantly in flux. It seems that the old, seemingly reliable rules and values of the past are quickly being replaced by situational ethics or personal preference. This creates a legal environment in which people sometimes need to re-evaluate or re-define the rules. Sometimes, the legal system has to be called upon to settle disputes in a society that has so many different values and social mores.

Because of these changes in differing values and changing societal standards, and for other reasons as well, minor children sometimes desire to be legally separated or emancipated from their parents. Most cases of a minor desiring emancipation from parents or guardians are due to a child moving out of the home for any number of reasons. Sometimes, a minor child will need to be emancipated because they have become financially independent, have joined a branch of the military, or have married.

In a few cases, kids will seek emancipation for medical treatment. The 2009 motion picture, “My Sister’s Keeper,” addresses the issue of an eleven-year-old minor wanting to be emancipated from her parents for medical reasons. With society’s growing acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, particularly for minors, some children are seeking emancipation stating irreconcilable differences over beliefs in a particular lifestyle the minor may have chosen to pursue.

Emancipation can be established by a mutual agreement between the parents and child. Emancipation may also be ordered by the court in some cases. If a child can show that they are not relying on the parents for support because they are now self-supported financially, emancipation may be ordered by the court. In such cases of a minor establishing emancipation, the parents are no longer held responsible for the financial support or for their care. Children who pursue this course need to realize that they alone will now be responsible for their own living expenses, medical care, insurance, and any other expenses incurred.

When a court reviews a petition for emancipation, the one factor that will be most important is what’s in the best interest of the minor child. Before granting emancipation, the court will likely also look for proof of financial independence in the present and in the future, adequate housing arrangements, whether or not the minor is in school or has completed school, and the maturity level of the minor. One thing is for certain, as society continues to change and values continue to differ, the courts may need to change the way emancipation of minors is handled.

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