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Emancipation of a Minor
Emancipation of a minor generally refers to the process of freeing a minor (person under age 18) from parental control. It means that the parent is no longer legally responsible for the acts of the child. It can allow the child to set up his/her own living arrangement. The term may also refer to freeing the earnings/income of a child from the control of a parent.
Partial or Complete Emancipation
The court in Maryland has indicated court said that emancipation can be either partial or complete. “Complete” means the parents are no longer legally responsible for the child. Partial emancipation means that child is emancipated only for:
- for a certain period of time or
- for some special purpose (such as the right to earn and spend his/her own wages) or
- from a part of a parent's rights (such as the right to make decisions about a pregnancy).
Routes to Emancipation of a Minor
There are four general ways in which a minor may be emancipated (completely or partially).
- A minor reaches the age of majority. In Maryland, this is age 18. At age 18, a person is an adult and does not need to be emancipated.
- Certain situations occur, such as marriage or entering the military occur. In these situations, it usually does not make sense to say that a parent must still support a minor and have control over his/her actions. Members of the military are subject to government control. A husband and wife generally have a duty to support his/her spouse. There are limitations. See the sections on marriage and military service.
- Misconduct by a parent. "Parental abuse, neglect or failure to support" or other misconduct are key factors that a court might consider in an emancipation action. For example, in a 1943 case, a son was considered emancipated by the court as the result of his father's "intemperate and brutal treatment". It is critical to note that the decision was based on the facts of the case. In this case the son was self-supporting, had left the parental home and was 18 at the time. (Before July 1973 the age of majority was 21). Lucas v. Maryland Drydock Co, 182 Md. 54 (1943)
- A parent (formally or informally) agrees to give up (some/or all of his/her) parental control. For example, a parent might consent to allowing a child to establish a separate household. Or a parent may force the minor to leave and support him/herself.
This is a "gray" area of the law in Maryland. Unlike many areas of the law, there are no clear rules that say, who may petition the court, what types of relief (solutions) you can ask for, and what procedures need to be followed. The “law” on emancipation in Maryland is not clear-cut. There is no written statute or court rule that sets out a procedure for emancipation. The lack of a special procedure means that judges often must rely upon something called “common law”. Common law is the compiled history of what other judges in the past have said and what the common “practice” has been.
Practically speaking, this means that there is no routine self-help court form that can be filed by someone representing him/herself. The bottom line is that there is no easy answer to the question of what the law says about emancipation. It depends on:
- Who you are (parent or child) and
- Your goals – the situation you are trying to address.
Emancipation Without Going to Court
There are many situations in which a child is "emancipated" without obtaining approval from the court. A parent and child may make an agreement granting the child either partial or complete emancipation. The agreement does not need to be formally drafted.
For example, a minor may move out of the parent's house be self supporting and manage his/her own affairs. There may be an actual agreement, or the parent may simply not try to make the child return. In other situations, the parent may ask the minor to leave and to support him/herself. Or a parent may require a minor to pay room and board. Also, a mediator may help parent and child come up with an agreement.
There may be other situations in which the parent and/or child may want to seek court approval of their agreement. The legal procedure is not clear cut and, therefore, it can be difficult to pursue. There are no court-approved self-help forms. You certainly will need the help of an attorney.
Bringing an Emancipation Case to Court
The courts become involved when there is the need for formal action. In the parental abuse and neglect cases, Child Protective Services will be involved. The first thing to remember is that the judges are looking at only the facts of the case before them. The more the facts of your situation resemble the facts in a case that has already been decided, the more likely the case will apply to you.
Some courts analyze other court decisions to help them decide the right path. This helps you to research similar situations and to see what legal issues a judge might look for. You will notice that the judge sometimes looks at cases decided in other states. Where the written law in Maryland is unclear, a judge may sometimes look at what other judges in other states have said.
Note: However, looking at the court decisions in other states to decide if they apply is best left to judges and attorneys. It is not easy for people representing themselves to do.
Making the case
In Holly v. Maryland Auto Insurance Fund, 29 Md. App. 498 (1975), the court summarized past Maryland court decisions in this area. Unless the minor has turned 18, the emancipation of a child cannot be the result of any act of the child alone. Emancipation requires some action by the parent (such as abuse or neglect), or by the minor with the permission of the parent (such as marriage). In making its decision, the court will focus on the relationship between the parent and child and what the goal of the person bringing the case is.
The minor seeking to be emancipated will need to prove facts to the court. Each case will be looked at on its own merits. Some facts that may make a court more likely to emancipate a minor are:
- A parent has abandoned the minor
- A parent mistreats the child
- A parent no longer wishes to have control over the child and is willing to relinquish his/her rights and obligations to the minor
- The minor is self-supporting
What is your goal (and why does it matter)?
Your goal matters because there may be different solutions to your problem depending on whether you are a parent or a child and what you are trying to achieve. For example:
- Are you a minor living away from your parents who are receiving public benefits on your behalf?
- Are you a child seeking independence from your parent(s)?
- Are you a minor trying to receive welfare or other help from social services?
- Are you a parent who wants to give your child the power to make his/her own decisions such as where to live?
- Are you a parent who wishes to end your support obligation?
- Are you a parent who does not want to be responsible for your child’s actions?
Which court has jurisdiction (or where do I go)?
The question of jurisdiction is partly the question of which court has the power to hear and decide a certain type of case. In Maryland the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over emancipation cases. In Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County, and Prince Georges County, the Circuit Courts maintain a Family Division which specifically handles family law and emancipation cases.
Can a minor go to court on his/her own to be emancipated?
In Maryland, this is one answer that is relatively clear despite the lack of specific emancipation procedures. A minor generally does not have the right to take unilateral (by him/herself) action to start an emancipation action. Only a few states provide a procedure for a minor to file for emancipation. Maryland does not.
Is this legal advice?
This site offers legal information, not legal advice. We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options. However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney. The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site. In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2013.”