Under typical circumstances, the parents of a minor child have certain financial and physical responsibilities towards their child. However, in some cases, parental responsibility can be legally ended through a process called emancipation. After a child becomes legally emancipated from his parents, the parents have no further financial responsibility for the child, or child support obligations. Laws regarding emancipation and child support vary from state to state.
In some U.S. states, emancipation occurs automatically the day after a child's 18th birthday unless there are circumstances exempting that child from age-based emancipation. Other states have a higher age for automatic emancipation; in Washington DC, Mississippi and New York parents are obligated to support their children until the age of 21, unless emancipation occurs for another reason. In any state, a child may be exempt from emancipation if she has special needs or if she attends college directly after completing high school.
Termination by Child
A child can ask a court to grant emancipation from his parents before reaching the age of automatic emancipation. The courts may grant early emancipation if a child abandons his parents' home against the wills of his parents and as a means of avoiding parental control. In the state of New York, any child over the age of 16 who is employed full time can petition for emancipation from his parents. If the court grants a minor child's petition for emancipation while he is still a minor, that child's parents can then petition for the termination of any child support order on the day of the minor child's emancipation.
If a minor joins the U.S. military service, she is considered emancipated from her parents. Although it is unusual for minors to join the military, in some circumstances, an individual can be in the military while considered a minor according to the laws of her home state. The U.S. Air Force reserve, for example, accepts new recruits who are at least 17 years of age. A 17-year-old joining the U.S. Air Force would be considered emancipated from his parents, even though in his home state he would be legally a minor.
Marriage and Pregnancy
In most states and under most circumstances, a minor child becomes emancipated from her parents if she enters into a legal marriage. Minor children are often legally able to marry if either parental consent, or a court order, is granted prior to the wedding. However, in New York, if a child is under the age of 21 and marries someone under the age of 21, and if the parents and spouses consent to the marriage, the parents are not relieved of the obligation to support the married child. However, if a child in New York under the age of 21 marries against the wills of her parents, the courts are very likely to declare the child emancipated. Pregnancy of a minor child may be grounds for emancipation if the child petitions a court for emancipation. However, unlike marriage, pregnancy does not generally lead to emancipation unless circumstances are such that the pregnant minor is living independently of her own parents. In Maryland, pregnancy itself does not necessarily emancipate a minor child, but a pregnant minor would become emancipated in Maryland if she were to move out of her parent's house to set up home with a partner, friend, or the baby's father. In other U.S. states, a pregnant minor child remains entitled to child support as long as she is under the age of 18.
References & Resources
- State of Indiana: Title 31, Article 35 (Emancipation)
- The Family Court Practice; Hon. Anthony Cleary Wilson
- New Jersey Child Support: Emancipation
- Hamilton County Job and Family Services: Emancipation
- Utah Code: Utah Child Support Act
- Sari M. Friedman, PC: When is My Child Emancipated?
- Mississippi Department of Human Services: Division of Child Support Enforcement
- District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General: Age of Emancipation
- Peoples Law Library of Maryland: Pregnancy
- Military.com: 10 Steps to Joining the Military
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images