A parent may seek emancipation of a minor because he/she:
- wishes to be released from the duty to support a minor or,
- does not want to be held liable for the actions of a minor.
Younger children need more parental support and protection. The younger the child is, the more likely the courts are to look for solutions that involve the child living with an adult. The older the child is the more likely it is that the court will find it appropriate for the child to set up his/her own household. Also, partial emancipation for a particular purpose is much more likely to be considered by the court than total emancipation.
In addition, the state has an interest in "children in need of assistance". A "child in need of assistance" is someone under the age of 18 who has been abused or neglected. The courts may intervene and can remove the child from the home. If that happens and more than a year passes, the court may decide the child is emancipated.
In general, your duty to support your child will not end until the child turns age 18. Usually, a parent can only claim emancipation as a defense to a child support claim when the parent can show that the child can a care for him/herself. There are some exceptions, however.
Required Support after age 18
There are situations where you may be required to pay support after age 18. See three common situations described below.
Disabled Adult Child
Possible Solution: There may be no direct solution if your child is unable to support him/herself. Under common law, a parent of a disabled child over the age of 18 may still have a duty to support the child. "Common law" refers to general rules that are commonly accepted but have not been passed by a legislative body like the Maryland General Assembly or Congress. Consider contacting your child's caretaker and discussing alternative ways in which the child can be supported if you reduced your payments. Perhaps you will be able to work out an agreement to provide some direct help in place of money. If there is a court order, you will need the court's permission to change the order.
One court looked at the question of whether a parent still had an obligation to support a disabled child over the age of 18 and who was unable to support him/herself. The two sides in this case were arguing over one parent should pay support for a child who became disabled after she reached age 18. The court decided "a parent who has the means to do so has a duty to support an incapacitated adult child whose disability commenced after the age of majority." Sininger v. Sininger, 300 Md. 604 (1984)
Child is in College
Possible Solution - First look at whether or not there is a support agreement that has been entered into the court records. For example, in one case, a father had agreed to pay for college for his adult daughter. The father said that he was not responsible because the daughter had "self-emancipated" by claiming "independent" status when she applied for financial aid. The court decided that because the "emancipation was not an issue in the agreement", the father was still obligated to pay for the college expenses. Boucher v. Shomber, 65 Md. App 470 (Dec. 1985)
If there is a written agreement or letter, you can take this to court. If a judge agrees that the evidence is enough, s/he can enter a court order for support. The order can be enforced through the courts. If the child in college is under 18, the parent still has a duty to support until the child turns eighteen (18).
Child is in Secondary School
A child is entitled to support from his/her parents until s/he is eighteen. If the child has reached 18 and is still enrolled in a secondary school, both parents must still provide support until one of the following happens:
- The child turns 19.
- The child graduates.
- The child leaves school.
- The child marries.
- The child dies.
- The child is "emancipated."