It is not unusual for teenagers to contemplate leaving home. In North Carolina, 16 year-olds can legally seek emancipation. Emancipation is the legal mechanism by which a minor is freed from the control of her parents, guardian or custodian, who are released from any and all responsibility for her. Consult an attorney in your jurisdiction if you have questions about becoming emancipated.
Petitioning the Court
In North Carolina, juveniles who are 16 years of age or older can petition for emancipation. They must have lived continuously in the same county for the six months prior to filing, however. The petitioner has to give her reasons for requesting emancipation and detail her plan for meeting her needs and living expenses. A copy of the filed petition and a summons must be served upon the petitioner's parents, guardian or custodian, who shall be named as respondents in the matter and will have 30 days in which to file an answer.
The date, time and place of the hearing will be included in the summons. A judge will hear the case. The petitioner and respondents will both have an opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The petitioner has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that emancipation is in her best interests. A preponderance of the evidence means that there is just enough evidence to make it more likely than not that what the petitioner seeks to prove is true. The amount of evidence required to meet this burden varies from case to case.
In determining the best interests of the petitioner and whether she has a need for emancipation, the judge will review a variety of factors. Consideration will be given to the parent's need for the petitioner's earnings, her ability to function as an adult, her need to be able to enter contracts as an adult would or to marry, her employment status and the stability of her living arrangements, the extent of discord within the family, the petitioner's rejection of parental supervision or support and the quality of that supervision or support.
The judge may order the petitioner to be examined by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a physician or any other expert who can evaluate her mental or physical condition. The judge may also order an investigation by a juvenile court counselor or the county department of social services to substantiate allegations that the petitioner or the respondents have made. In either of these events, the hearing will be continued at a later date.
Effects of Emancipation
Upon a determination that it is in the petitioner's best interest and that she fully understands the ramifications, the judge will enter a decree of emancipation. As of the entry of the decree, the petitioner will have the same right to make contracts and conveyances, to sue and be sued and to transact business as if she were an adult. The parents, guardian or custodian are relieved of all the legal duties and obligations formerly owed to the petitioner and are divested of all rights with respect to her. The decree is irrevocable.