Most teenagers can't wait to turn 18 years old and move beyond the age of parental control. In Maryland, this is termed emancipation, and some teens can become emancipated even before that magic birthday.
This can happen in Maryland in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Anyone seeking emancipation in Maryland, or who knows a teen seeking independence, should get an overview of the state laws on this issue.
What Is Emancipation?
When a teen is emancipated, they are completely independent, no longer under their parents’ care and control. Their parents no longer are obliged to support them financially. In the normal course of things, teens must wait until they are 18 years old to be emancipated, and this happens automatically when that birthday arrives.
The state of Maryland is one of many that permit a young person to seek emancipation before their 18th birthday. That can happen as a result of certain life choices, like marriage, or it can involve a court ruling that it is in the adolescent’s best interests to be totally or partially free of parental controls.
There are a variety of reasons that a court can make this type of emancipation ruling. Maryland gives courts a lot of discretion to do so, with the teen's best interest being the deciding factor.
Emancipation at Age 18
The age of majority in most of the United States is 18, and that is the law in Maryland. At the age of 18, a 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. For example, they can:
- Sign binding contacts.
- Apply for a job without a work permit.
- File a lawsuit or be sued.
- Enroll in school without parental consent.
- Open financial accounts in their own name.
- Move out of the house without parental permission.
This type of emancipation happens without any action other than the ticking of time. When a person's 18th birthday arrives, they automatically become an adult. There are no emancipation documents to prepare or file in Maryland. In fact, this type of emancipation is usually not even termed emancipation, but achieving the age of majority.
Note that other state laws triggered by turning 18 are not implicated in an emancipation. For example, emancipated or not, a person cannot vote in Maryland until they turn 18.
Minimum Emancipation Age
The minimum emancipation age in Maryland is 15. It is at this age that a teen can ask a court to grant an emancipation petition. A minor can seek a complete emancipation or a partial emancipation. The court considers a petition with the best interests of the teen in mind.
One way Maryland emancipation laws are different than similar laws in other states is that Maryland permits partial emancipation as an alternative to a complete emancipation. A complete emancipation means that the minor is granted permanently all the rights of an adult.
Complete and Partial Emancipation
A minor who is 15 years old or older can seek either a complete or a partial emancipation in Maryland. If they seek, and are granted, a complete emancipation, their parents are no longer required to provide financially for them and are no longer able to make decisions for them.
With a partial emancipation, however, the minor is only emancipated for:
- Specific period of time.
- Specific purpose.
- Portion of parental rights.
For example, a pregnant teen might seek partial emancipation to be able to make her own medical decisions during the pregnancy. A teen granted partial emancipation is still under the parents' care and control in other matters.
Age of Emancipation
When a minor turns 18, they become completely emancipated without any court action. This type of complete emancipation can also happen as a result of certain actions on the part of the teen, including marriage and joining the military.
In Maryland, a person must be 18 years old to marry without the permission of their parents. Nobody under the age of 15 is legally allowed to marry in the state. However, a couple can marry in Maryland without parental consent if one of them is 16 or 17 and a physician certifies that the girl is pregnant or has given birth to a child.
Complete Emancipation by Marriage
At age 15, marriage is permitted only with parental consent and also a physician's certification that the girl is pregnant or has given birth. Note that pregnancy alone does not emancipate an unmarried teenager, since she will require parental support.
The justification for emancipation of a youth who marries is that the parents can no longer be expected to exercise control over a married person. Nor can they reasonably be expected to support a married child because laws require spouses to support each other.
Possible Emancipation in Military
In Maryland, the minimum age to join the military is 17 years old. Nobody, emancipated or not, can join at a younger age. Therefore, the issue of emancipation by entering the military applies only to persons 17 years old. These teens must have the written consent of a parent to join.
Once a 17-year-old joins the military, are they emancipated? Many states have specific laws stating that they are. Maryland does not have such laws, but courts faced with the issue often rule that they are emancipated by virtue of being in the military. This is because parental control has been replaced by governmental control.
However, this can be challenged. Courts will look at all of the circumstances to determine whether it is in the best interests of the teen to be declared emancipated.
Partial Emancipation by Circumstances
Maryland law describes how certain circumstances can result in partial emancipation for a teen. For example, when a minor becomes pregnant in Maryland, she automatically becomes partially emancipated. That is, she is granted the legal right to make her own decisions regarding prenatal care and terminating the pregnancy.
Likewise, any Maryland teen at least 16 years old has authority to consent to obtaining a mental healthcare diagnosis and treatment without their parents' consent. They do not, however, have the right to refuse mental health treatment approved by their parents.
Filing for Emancipation in Maryland
Maryland is very flexible about the procedure a teen must use to seek emancipation in Maryland. This is largely due to the fact that the state laws on emancipation are not specific or clear. In fact, there is no statute or written court rule that describes the procedure for emancipation, including:
- Who may petition the court.
- Various types of relief available.
- Procedures to be followed.
Instead, courts look to what other judges have said and what the common practice has been. This makes it harder for a teen to file for emancipation since there are no self-help forms. The result of an emancipation petition will depend on whether the child or parent is seeking emancipation and the specific facts of each case.
Where to File for Emancipation of a Minor
Further complicating the issue of filing for emancipation in Maryland is the issue of jurisdiction. Not every court in Maryland has the authority to hear and decide emancipation cases. Generally, in this state, the county circuit court is the place to file these cases.
Circuit courts in Maryland are the trial courts, where both jury trials and trials determined by judges are held. These courts hear most major civil cases, including juvenile and other family law cases. They also hear domestic violence cases.
Filing in Counties with a Family Court
In certain counties like Baltimore, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George's County, the county circuit courts operate a family division. This is the place where family law and emancipation cases are heard.
A teen seeking emancipation should file the petition in the county where they live, while a parent seeking to emancipate a child should file in the county where the minor resides.
Emancipation Through Parental Agreement
In Maryland, emancipation can occur through an agreement between the parents and child, whether tacit or informal. That is, when a parent agrees to give up parental control, the child can ask for a court to recognize their emancipation.
For example, if parents permit a teen to move out of the house and establish their own household, that child is essentially emancipated. Likewise, when parents exclude a minor from their residence and refuse to support them, they are emancipated. Parental abuse and neglect can also factor into an emancipation decision.
Seeking Emancipation in Court
A minor can choose to start the emancipation process in court. As described above, there is no simple, self-help method to file an emancipation petition. A young person must find an adult to present the case for them since they are not old enough to begin their own court action in Maryland until they turn 18.
The teen can ask for help from an official at Maryland Child Protective Services. In cases of abuse or neglect, this agency steps up to protect the teen by getting them permission to move out of the house and be free of parental controls. If the teen is under the age of 15, they can be placed in foster care, since they are below the minimum age for emancipation.
Teens in an abusive or neglectful family may prefer emancipation if they are at least 15. They may already have moved out of the home and/or taken a job to meet their financial debts.
Evidence for Emancipation
Maryland courts must consider the minor’s best interests in all emancipation cases. Given the lack of specific statutes and regulations, a court must consider all of the evidence presented by the child, their representatives and 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. The type of evidence that may be most persuasive in this type of case in Maryland includes:
- Evidence that a parent or both parents have abandoned the minor.
- Evidence of physical, mental or emotional abuse or mistreatment of the child.
- Evidence that the parents are willing and ready to give up parental control in exchange for being relieved of the requirement to support the minor.
- Evidence that the teen has a job and is self-supporting.
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.