There's a great line in a popular song that defines freedom as "nothing left to lose," but it's hard to talk teenagers into this viewpoint. Freedom means different things to different people, and one type of freedom occurs in Texas at the age of majority – 18 years old – when an individual who is legally a minor and under parental supervision transitions into being an adult.
But sometimes this isn't soon enough. A minor can free themselves from parental control earlier by filing a Petition for Emancipation with the Texas courts. Despite the term given to these papers, no specific legal form is required and any document requesting emancipation should work just as well.
Age of Majority in Texas
The age of majority in Texas is 18, and the time passes slowly for some. While most teens eagerly anticipate the arrival of the magic moment, others simply cannot wait that long. When they get closer to 18, they can take legal action in Texas to become emancipated sooner.
The state of Texas is one of many states that permit a teen to seek emancipation before their 18th birthday if they meet certain criteria. There are several ways this can happen.
For example, a teen can emancipate themselves in Texas as a result of certain life choices, like an early marriage, or they can file court papers (petition for emancipation or similar document) claiming that it is in their best interests to be free of parental controls — in other words: emancipated.
Rights and Responsibilities of Emancipation
Emancipation is a legal term when used in this context, and it carries with it certain rights and responsibilities. When a teen is successful in their bid for Texas emancipation, the status gives the minor the right under Texas law to make their own choices without parental permission.
But it also means that the minor's parents are completely freed of the obligation to care for or support the teen, financially or otherwise. The courts consider many factors when considering a petition for emancipation, with the primary focus being the best interests of the teen.
Meaning of Emancipation of a Minor
When a teen is under the age of majority, they are said to have the "disabilities of minority." This is a legal term with a specific meaning. When they become emancipated in Texas, they are moved to adult status and become completely legal independent individuals.
In the normal course of things, teens must wait for their 18th birthday to be emancipated. In this case, there is no need for them to take any action at all – emancipation happens automatically when that day dawns. However, there are several other avenues a Texas teen can consider.
Removal of Disabilities of Minor
When the Texas Family Code discusses the ways in which a minor can become legally emancipated in Texas, it refers to the removal of the disabilities of minority. That is, a minor who wishes to have the legal capacity of an adult can ask a Texas court for the removal of disabilities of minority in a process known as emancipation.
In fact, a minor in Texas is defined as a person under age 18 who has not had the disabilities of minority removed for general purposes. The term “disabilities of minority” refers to the restrictions on a minor’s legal capacity. Those restrictions limit a minor’s ability to enter contracts and make educational, medical and financial decisions.
Traditional Emancipation Happens at Age 18
States set their own age of majority in this country, and most of them set this at 18 years old. This is the current law in Texas. On their 18th birthday, a Texas teen becomes an adult for all legal purposes. This means that they can participate in all of the activities that are normally restricted to adults, other than consuming alcohol.
For example, a teen living in Texas can, on and after their 18th birthday, do things that they would not have been able to do at 17, including:
- Enter into a binding contact in their own name.
- Apply for any job they want without a work permit.
- Bring a lawsuit in any state court.
- Be sued in any state court.
- Enroll in a school without parental consent.
- Make their own health care decisions without parental consent.
- Open checking, savings or investment accounts in their own name.
- Move out of the house without parental permission and live anywhere they choose.
This type of emancipation happens without any action other than the ticking of time. The teen need file no emancipation documents in Texas to achieve this freedom, and, in fact, this transition is not even referred to as emancipation. It is generally called achieving the age of majority, and the disabilities of minority are automatically removed at this point.
Emancipation by Marriage or Military Service
Teens that wish to move along faster in removing their disabilities of minority have other choices. There are two life decisions a Texas resident under the age of 18 can make that will emancipate them legally without needing to go to court. The first is getting married.
A minor in Texas who marries is automatically emancipated. Their status changes from a dependent teenager to an independent married person without having to take any additional action than saying "I do." And, at that point, their parents need not provide any more financial support for them.
Allowable Age for Marriage in Texas
But this type of emancipation is dependent on the parents as well. The reality is that parents have the final vote in this type of emancipation. Under Texas law, only individuals who have reached the age of majority (18) have the right to get married without parental consent.
No minor under the age of 18 can get married without their guardian's or their parent's permission. This applies to minors of either sex.
If parents give their authorization, kids as young as 14 can get married. Consent must be given within 30 days of the time the minor applies for a marriage license. Parents who agree to allow their child to enter into an underage marriage essentially also consent to the emancipation of that child.
If a Minor Divorces Before Turning 18
What happens if the minor divorces before turning 18? The court will consider the facts and circumstances of the case to determine whether the parents must again step up and provide financial assistance for their child.
Admission to Military Service
The second way that a minor in Texas can be emancipated is to join any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Once a teen is admitted into a military service, they are automatically emancipated from their parents. But again, there are applicable age limits. Minors under 18 can only join a military service if they get parental consent.
As with the marriage of a minor, a parent must consent to their minor child entering military service and so will have a final say on this type of emancipation.
Filing a Petition for Emancipation
If a teen seeks emancipation before the age of 18 in Texas, another option is to file emancipation papers with the Texas court in the county where they legally reside. The procedure is authorized by, and set out in, the Texas Family Code under Section 31 Removal of Disabilities of Minority. The court appoints an attorney to represent the minor at the proceedings.
The first step toward filing for emancipation in Texas is to make sure that all preconditions are met. A minor can only petition for emancipation if they are:
- A Texas resident.
- Managing their own financial affairs.
- 17 years old, or at least 16 and living separate and apart from their parents or guardian.
The document is often referred to as a Petition for Emancipation and it is possible to purchase a form of that name online. However this is not a legal necessity. It is equally possible to write up a request to the court on ordinary paper without using a petition form.
Contents of Petition for Emancipation
The minor seeking emancipation and/or their attorney must include certain, specific matters in their documents, including:
- Name, age and place of residency of petitioner.
- Names and places of residency of the petitioner's parents (if living) and/or guardians, and/or managing conservator, if any.
- Reasons why removal of disabilities of minority is in their best interests.
- Purposes for which the request is made.
Note that the parent of the petitioner must verify the petition. If a managing conservator or guardian has been appointed for the minor, the petition must be verified by that person. If the person who is to verify the petition is unavailable or that person's whereabouts are unknown, the minor's attorney can verify the petition.
Limits of the Emancipation Process
Note that even if a minor is emancipated in Texas, they cannot do everything that an adult can do. Certain rights are written into law with an age minimum, so only those who attain the statutory age minimum qualify. Examples are the right to vote and the right to drink; both require that the person be 18 years of age or older.
Evidence in Favor of Emancipation
Texas courts are required under the Texas Family Law Code to put the minor’s best interests first in all emancipation cases. The statutes and regulations do not specify the required proof, so the family law court must consider all of the evidence presented.
This can be testimony or proof offered by the minor, by the minor's guardian or representative, and by the parents. In every case, this will depend on the facts presented to the court.
That means that a minor seeking emancipation should present facts and offer evidence supporting those facts. First, they must show that they are self-sufficient and can handle their own financial matters. In addition, they should consider showing:
- Evidence of abandonment, if either or both parents have abandoned the minor.
- Evidence of abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional, or mistreatment of the minor.
- Evidence that the parents have agreed to relinquish parental control of the minor in exchange for relaxation of financial support requirement.
Complete or Partial Emancipation
The law provides that a Texas minor may petition to have the disabilities of minority removed for limited or general purposes. A minor whose disabilities are removed for general purposes has the legal capacity of an adult, as described above. They have the rights of an adult and can make all of their own decisions.
A court can also order a minor’s disabilities to be removed for specific purposes. Situations where this is appropriate include requests to the court to allow the minor to:
- Enter into a specific contract.
- Consent to medical treatment.
- Enter into military service.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.