When individuals under the age of 18 become emancipated, they have the ability to enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and live on their own apart from their parents. Tennessee has a unique law regarding emancipation of minors, in part to satisfy the needs of young people entering the music and entertainment industry in Nashville and Memphis. Not only can you become completely emancipated, you can also become emancipated for a single purpose or transaction, such as signing a recording contract.
You must file a petition with the chancery court in the county where you live to become emancipated as a minor in Tennessee. A judge will review your circumstances and make a determination based on your best interests.
Evaluating Your Situation
People under the age of 18 might want to become emancipated for many reasons. Assessing your reasons for seeking emancipation can help you figure out what information the judge will want from you.
On one end of the spectrum, teenagers who are in an abusive or neglectful household might believe that they can take care of themselves better on their own. The judge will look at your overall maturity if this is your situation, as well as whether you have transportation and the means to support yourself. The judge will also consider whether you have any other responsible, adult relatives with whom you could live. Remaining in school until graduation is typically required.
Tennessee has no minimum age requirement to petition for emancipation. However, the younger you are, the more closely the judge will look at your overall maturity and your ability to handle your affairs and make responsible decisions.
You can seek emancipation to advance your career, particularly in the entertainment industry. For example, a young singer-songwriter might seek emancipation because she wants to contract with a manager and an agent. The court can grant her limited emancipation in this situation. It would extend only to signing contracts in connection with her singing career.
State law also allows for partial emancipation when a minor owns real or personal property in Tennessee, regardless of whether you live in the state. This limited emancipation only gives you the ability to legally sell or otherwise dispose of the property before you turn 18.
Petitioning the Court
You can't petition the court on your own if you're under the age of 18. You'll need an adult to file a petition on your behalf. You can ask a parent, or another adult you trust. It can also be an attorney, although it can't be your attorney if you've hired one to represent you.
The adult you choose will work with your attorney to draft a petition. This formal legal document asks the judge to "remove the disability of minority," in legal terms. The petition states your name, as well as the names and residences of your parents or next of kin. It also describes the reason you are seeking emancipation.
You must file the petition with the clerk and master of the chancery court in the county where you live. You would typically file your petition in the county where the property is located if you're seeking emancipation for reasons related to real or personal property.
You must pay a filing fee of around $300. You can apply for a waiver if you can't afford to pay the fee.
If anyone, such as a parent, was named as a defendant in the petition, he must be served with a copy of the petition and given an opportunity to respond. It isn't necessary to name anyone as a defendant, however.
Attending Your Hearing
You must attend a court hearing before the judge, called a "chancellor" in the chancery courts, in order to become emancipated. Arrive at the courthouse early, giving yourself plenty of time to get through security and find the right courtroom. Dress as though you were going to a religious service or a job interview. Treat everyone you interact with in the courthouse with courtesy and respect.
The chancellor may be hearing several cases besides yours. When you enter the courtroom, take a seat in the gallery and wait for your case to be called. Then you can stand and approach the front of the courtroom.
The chancellor will examine your petition and might call on you, your parents, or others involved in your case to testify. The chancellor will issue a decree that he believes is in your best interests when testimony has been concluded.
Seeking Legal Counsel
It's a good idea to talk to an attorney about your situation before you get started. You can look online for a local attorney, or ask adults you trust for referrals. The Tennessee Bar Association has an attorney referral program that will help match you with a licensed attorney. You might be able to find an attorney through Legal Aid who is willing to represent you for free through Legal Aid if you can't afford to pay a lawyer's fees.
Be careful about getting a referral from an industry professional who wants you to sign a contract if you're in the music or entertainment industry. That attorney might be biased, and not necessarily looking out for your best interests.