Emancipation is a process that allows people under the age of 18 to be treated as adults. The court will consider a petition for emancipation after receiving legal documents from you and hearing your testimony and that of witnesses at an official hearing. Considerations for the court to weigh include your age, your maturity level, your income from employment, the value of your assets, any legal proceedings you have previously been involved in (such as criminal proceedings) and your parents’ opinions as to whether you should become emancipated. Generally, filing fees are not imposed, and you may be able to request a waiver of court costs. Contracts entered into by emancipated minors may be enforceable in court. The emancipation process culminates when a judge issues a final order after the hearing.
Obtain your parents' consent to become emancipated--if they will grant it--and their approval of a proposed marriage, if applicable. (Some states allow people younger than 18 to get married with parental consent.)
Hire an attorney, if you can afford it. The legal paperwork required can be overwhelming, especially if you've never before appeared in a courtroom. A searchable directory of licensed attorneys can be found at the Martindale website. (See the link under Resources.) You can search by location and legal speciality.
Comply with any laws and court rules relative to your emancipation proceeding. You will be required to obtain forms provided by the court, as well as documents you will need to prepare, file and serve on your parents and any other necessary parties. Make photocopies of all documents prior to mailing them to the court. When sending documents for filing, be sure to request a conformed copy for your records and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with adequate postage for return. The court may require that you publish your emancipation petition in a “newspaper of general circulation.” Additionally, you may occasionally be required to pay filing and any other court fees.
Prepare your case and appear in court at the scheduled time and date. Bring a file containing your court-related documents. You may need to subpoena witnesses to appear at the hearing. The court will review the evidence in the case, including your age and maturity level, your employment and/or school status, the existence of children or pregnancy, the testimony of witnesses (particularly about your ability to adapt to adult responsibilities), your financial status and your relationship to your parent(s) or guardian(s). The court will determine what it feels is in the "best interests of the child." You will also have to provide general information, such as your home address, telephone number, birthdate and Social Security number.
Obtain a certified copy of the judge’s final orders in your case. You may be charged a fee charged for copies of documents and for certified copies provided by the court.
- Generally, any contract that a minor enters into with a third party may be rescinded at the minor’s option. The minor may choose to honour the terms of the contract or he may revoke his consent to the contract. In such a case, the minor must return any and all consideration received from the other party (such as money or property) in order to rescind the contract. Most jurisdictions stipulate that contracts entered into by minors who have received a court’s final approval of emancipation become legally enforceable against the minor.
- Presenting a case in court can be difficult, even for attorneys. If the court does not appoint an attorney to represent you in court, it is highly recommended that you do not handle your own case.