You cannot literally divorce your parents. In most states, however, you can ask or petition the court to grant you legal emancipation or freedom from their guardianship. You’re required to file court documents in the state in which you live, and you must meet some basic requirements, which vary based on your location. Some states, for instance, require you to be 16 years old before you file. Other states allow minors as young as 14 to petition for legal emancipation. The process can take from two to six months, possibly more.
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What It Means to Be an Emancipated Minor
If a judge grants your petition requesting emancipation, you’ll be in charge of the decision-making aspects of your life. You can choose where you live and shop. You can set your own agenda for your free time. You can obtain a credit card and seek bank loans. Provided the landlord approves, you can sign a lease for an apartment. You’re also responsible for your own taxes and any debt you might otherwise incur.
In some states, emancipation means your parents are no longer responsible for providing you food, shelter, clothing or medical care. In other states, such as Illinois, the court may grant a partial emancipation order that requires your parents to retain some responsibility for your support. Emancipation otherwise generally gives you all the rights of an adult, but you’re still bound by a few laws of your state, such as the minimum legal driving age. Many states, such as California, also require that you attend school until you’re 18, regardless of your emancipation status.
Qualifying for Emancipation
Courts take emancipation very seriously and thus set a high bar for considering or granting your petition. Some minors seek emancipation because they are already living on their own but finding it difficult to rent an apartment or enter into contracts as an underage minor. Others are in a precarious situation at home, with unstable conditions that make their living situation unsustainable.
The courts generally want minors seeking emancipation to prove they are mature enough for adult responsibilities. This may include verifying that you are currently employed, you are able to secure housing, and you have an overall awareness of how to manage other aspects of your life. For instance, it's not considered ideal to assume you can go on public aid after emancipation. In that case, the court may decide to involve your state’s child welfare agency if your parents are considered unfit as guardians.
It’s helpful to show the judge you have precise goals for your future, such as finishing high school and going on to college. Reference letters from teachers, employers, counselors and other adults who can attest to your maturity will also help prove your eligibility to the court.
Taking Steps Toward Emancipation
The emancipation process is complex. You must follow the timeline outlined by the court for filing the appropriate documents, notifying your parents of your intent to seek emancipation, and appearing before the judge for your hearings. Because of this complexity, an attorney can be of significant benefit in helping you sort through the steps of emancipation and achieving the best outcome. Many states and local communities offer free legal aid to minors, even if you only need help with filling out the documents.
While the process varies by state, in general, state courts require you to file with the court clerk a petition that includes your reasons for desiring emancipation. Then you must notify your parents in writing of your intent. You’ll receive notice of a hearing date and time, after which the judge decides whether or not to grant your request for emancipation.