What is Emancipation?

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Thirteenth Amendment aside, what meaning does emancipation have in the legal landscape today? According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute all 50 states have laws pertaining to when and under what conditions children may become legally independent of their parents. In the state of Utah, emancipation requirements are governed by civil code title 78 chapter 3a.

Section 1003 of this chapter states that that “A minor may petition the juvenile court on his or her own behalf in the district in which he or she resides for a declaration of emancipation.” An emancipated child must be 16 years of age or older and is treated as an adult for most legal purposes, with one notable exception being the jurisdiction of the criminal code; meaning that an emancipated child will not necessarily be “tried as an adult” for criminal offenses.

The emancipation of minors is relatively rare because it is only granted when found to be in the best interest of the child. This definition of “best interest” is left to judicial discretion and most cases that could possibly lead to emancipation end with the subject child in foster care. Furthermore, any child seeking emancipation from his/her parent(s)/guardian(s) must prove that he/she is capable both of living on their own and managing their own finances.

The highest profile emancipation cases are those of child celebrities and child actors whose earnings have been mismanaged by their parents. Less noticeable cases include minors who are married or wish to be married or who wish to enter military service. Minors may seek emancipation due to, and indeed parents may be deemed unfit, for abuse and neglect.

An implied emancipation may arise from parental conduct inconsistent with the duty to exercise control over and care for a minor. The court may also establish an implied partial emancipation in cases where particular circumstances justify emancipation for certain purposes. A final type of emancipation may arise when parent and child mutually agree that the minor will live on his/her own and control their finances; this is called express emancipation and is rarely decided in court.

We hope that this has been an informative discussion of an oft-misunderstood legal process. You can schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys or come see us in our office in Provo. We are proud and happy to be serving the families of Utah Valley with our knowledge and expertise.

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