There may be many reasons a young adult might wish to live separate and apart from their parents. Although the age of majority is 18 in California, a child can legally be considered an adult by becoming emancipated. However, child emancipation is a step that the minor must take for themselves. Parents cannot seek to have a child emancipated to avoid their parental responsibilities or child support obligations.
Emancipation is not as simple as a child moving out of their parent's home to be free from parental control — it is a legal process that must go through court. For a judge to grant a petition for emancipation, the minor must show the court that they can financially support themselves as well as demonstrate why living on their own would be beneficial.
Through the process of child emancipation, a minor is given many of the same rights as an adult. They no longer need to obtain parental consent to enter into contracts, enroll in school, or apply for a work permit. They can also commence legal actions, execute a will, buy or sell property, obtain loans, and consent to their own medical, dental, or psychiatric treatment.
Importantly, emancipation comes with significant responsibilities for a minor. Once a minor is emancipated, parents are no longer responsible to support the child financially — the individual seeking emancipation must have their own means of providing for themselves. An emancipated child is also still required to attend school.
Additionally, there are certain things that emancipation doesn't change. For instance, emancipated minors are still subject to a number of laws that are applicable to those who are unemancipated. While emancipation allows a young adult to obtain a job without their parent's permission, California's child labor laws restrict the number of hours any minors can legally work and the type of work in which they may engage.
Even though emancipated minors do not have to abide by a curfew, they are still not able to vote until they are 18 or consume alcohol until they are 21.
There are three ways in California that a child can become emancipated — by getting married, joining the military, or petitioning the court. However, a minor still needs to obtain their parents' consent to enter into marriage or enlist in the armed forces.
The court process for the emancipation of minors requires that the minor file the petition with the court. Only the individual seeking emancipation can submit the papers. Since they cannot request that the child be emancipated, the minor's parents do not have the authority to file the paperwork.
In order for a California court to grant a child's request for emancipation, the minor must demonstrate that they:
The minor must prove to the judge that emancipation would be in their best interests and affect their life positively. While emancipation is typically permanent, a court may rescind a declaration of emancipation if the minor becomes unable to financially support themselves.
Before filing any paperwork, the minor needs to consider whether they can satisfy the court's criteria for emancipation. Crucially, the judge will be considering the child's financial circumstances and whether they will be able to provide necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and health care for themselves.
If a minor will be able to meet the court's requirements, a Petition for Declaration of Emancipation of Minor will need to be completed, along with an Income and Expense Declaration, and a Notice of Hearing. Parents can also consent to emancipation by signing the Consent and Waiver of Notice in the Notice of Hearing.
If the minor’s parents cannot be found or do not consent, a hearing will be scheduled by the court. The minor’s parents must be provided with notice of the hearing. In cases in which the child doesn't know where their parents live, it is important that they make attempts to locate them.
At the emancipation hearing, the judge may ask the minor a series of questions. Additionally, the hearing provides the parents with an opportunity to object to their child's request for emancipation. In cases in which the parents consent and emancipation would be in the child's best interests, the judge may grant the petition without a hearing.
Although a parent is generally responsible to pay child support in California until a child turns 18 (or 19 if the child has not yet graduated from high school and lives at home), the support obligation terminates upon the child's emancipation. In other words, since the child is no longer considered a minor, the support obligation ends.
Depending on the situation, there may be alternatives to emancipation. Legal guardianship may be an option, which would effectively give custody to an adult besides the child's parents without terminating their parental rights. In other cases, family counseling could potentially help to resolve conflicts. Or, the child may be able to enter into an agreement with their parents to live with another family member. Before a child files for emancipation, a family may consider discussing other options that may be viable under the circumstances.
Emancipation is a big decision for a minor and can impact the entire family. If you're a minor seeking emancipation or a parent who would like to learn more about California's laws concerning how a child can be emancipated, it's best to speak with a family law attorney. An attorney who handles child emancipation matters can best advise you and your family regarding the pros and cons and whether emancipation would be in your best interests.
The Law Office of Rick D. Banks has over two decades of experience assisting clients in Fresno and the surrounding area with a variety of divorce and family law matters. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559)222-4891.