Emancipation refers to the act of legally severing the ties between you and your children. While you may still biologically be the mother or father of your child, in the eyes of the law, you are no longer their parent. This essentially removes all liability, which means you no longer have an obligation to support your child financially, physically, or otherwise. This happens automatically upon a child reaching the age of 18, unless they attend college the fall directly after graduating high school, but can also be initiated by either the child or the parent while the child is still a minor under certain circumstances. It is important to note that you cannot simply emancipate your child because you no longer feel like supporting them; only in limited circumstances is a parent ever able to emancipate a minor. To learn about what those circumstances are, and how to emancipate a minor if you are in one of those circumstances, read on:
Know When You Can Emancipate
There are only a few situations where emancipation of a minor is possible. This vary from state to state, of course, and most of the time, are handled on a case-by-case basis - that is, it is completely up to the judge whether or not you can emancipate the minor. You should contact a family law attorney to learn more about your state's laws on how to emancipate a minor. In general, though, most states will consider an emancipation in the following situations:
The child dropped out of high school prior to completing his or her degree; The child graduated high school early and is not attending college; The child has a baby (not just gets pregnant), or becomes a father prior their 18th birthday; The child gets married prior to their 18th birthday.
In matters where you give up your parental rights to allow the child to be adopted by a step-parent, you will not need to file for emancipation; once you give up your parental rights, you are no longer legally considered the child's parent, and the step-parent who adopts them will them assume your previous responsibilities.
Know When You Can't Emancipate
There are many situations where a parent may want to emancipate their child, but the law doesn't - and shouldn't - allow it. Review the following situations to make sure you are not trying to emancipate your minor child for one of the following reasons; if so, you should not and will not be allowed to do so:
Your relationship with your child has deteriorated due to a divorce or other reasons; Your child has become a "problem" child; Your child refuses to attend visitation with you after a divorce; Your child chooses to live with the other parent after a divorce; The child graduates high school early and is attending college; You cannot or do not want to pay child support; You do not want to be the child's parent; You did not want the child to be born; You remarry and/or have or plan to have other children with your new spouse.
In any of the above situations, you will need to continue paying support for the child until their 18th birthday, or if they are attending college, their 21st birthday. If they do attend college, you will also be responsible for up to ½ of the child's education expenses.
Start the Petition for Emancipation
If your situation meets one of the the above criteria for emancipating a minor, then you can proceed by drafting a petition to start the process. Keep in mind that just because your situation may be accepted for emancipation,does not mean you will be able to successfully complete it; remember, these matters are handled on a case-by-case basis, and the judge may decide not to grant the emancipation. You won't know until you try, though, so start by contacting the family court and asking for the forms you need to file the case in court.
After picking up the forms, fill out the necessary information, including your personal information, your child's personal information, and the other parent's information. You will also need to include a detailed summary of the situation, including why you feel the emancipation should be granted. If you can, back your claims up with evidence like documents showing your child has dropped out of high school or recently had a child. This will strengthen your case when you go to court.
You may want to enlist the help of an attorney to complete the application. Even if the attorney does not represent you in court, you can pay for them to just draft the petition, which may better your chances of winning your case.
File the Petition at the Courthouse
After completing the application, take it to the courthouse where you received the forms to file it. You will need to pay a filing fee, which can range anywhere from $25 to $100, depending on your jurisdiction. If the application is accepted, you will receive a hearing date. You may also be instructed to send a copy of the application and information about the hearing to your child and/or their custodial parent. You will need to send this by Certified Mail, so that you have proof of receipt in case either party claims they did not receive the paperwork in the mail.
There is a good chance that the child or the custodial parent will try to contest the matter, especially if you are currently paying child support by court order. If they do, you will receive a copy of their answer in the mail. This will give you a chance to review their response and see why they are claiming you shouldn't be able to emancipate the child. Take the time to review and respond to each claim, and bring your answers - along with evidence to back up each point - to the courthouse for the hearing.
Attend the Hearing
Make sure you attend the hearing, or else your case will likely be dismissed. Be sure to show up at least 20 to 30 minutes in advance, both to prepare yourself and to make sure you do not miss your case when it is called. Once called, both you and the child, along with the custodial parent, will be given a chance to explain your side of the story to the judge. You will also be able to provide your answers to their response, and any evidence you have to back up your claims at this time. You should also bring a copy of your initial application and any documents you had attached to it, in case the judge asks for a specific document; this way, you will be able to provide it, and present the strongest case possible in court.
After the judge has heard both sides, he or she will make their decision. They will either deny the request, or will grant the emancipation of your minor child. If the emancipation is granted, an order will be entered and it will usually become effective immediately. This means you will no longer be considered the child's parent for legal purposes, and any child support orders in place for the child will terminate as of the date of the order. Keep in mind that if you have other children that you are paying support for, you are still required to continue support payments for them as stated in the support order. If the judge does not do so at the hearing, you will need to file a motion to have the child support order modified to account for the child you are no longer supporting.
If your child and the custodial parent do not show up to the hearing, two things can happen: either the hearing will be postponed to a later date when the parties will be able to attend, or a default judgment will be entered. A default judgment means that you will win your case without having to argue your case. In the event that neither party shows and they have not sent an attorney on their behalf, feel free to ask to judge to enter a default hearing; it is the judge's discretion to do so, but it never hurts to ask.