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7151. Emancipated minor; definition; criteria.

(a) As used in this chapter:

(1) "Emancipated minor" means a minor who:

(A) has entered into a valid marriage, whether or not such marriage was terminated by dissolution;

(B) is on active duty with any of the armed forces of the United States of America; or

(C) has been ordered emancipated pursuant to section 7155 of this title.

(2) "Risk of harm" means a significant danger that a child will suffer serious harm other than by accidental means, which would be likely to cause physical injury, neglect, emotional maltreatment or sexual abuse.

(b) In order to become an emancipated minor by court order under this chapter, a minor at the time of the order must be a person who:

(1) is 16 years of age or older but under the age of majority;

(2) has lived separate and apart from his or her parents, custodian, or legal guardian for three months or longer;

(3) is managing his or her own financial affairs;

(4) has demonstrated the ability to be self-sufficient in his or her financial and personal affairs, including proof of employment or his or her other means of support. "Other means of support" does not include general assistance or Aid to Needy Families with Children, or relying on the financial resources of another person who is receiving such assistance or aid;

(5) holds a high school diploma or its equivalent or is earning passing grades in an educational program approved by the court and directed towards the earning of a high school diploma or its equivalent;

(6) is not under a legal guardianship or in the custody or guardianship of the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services;

(7) is not under the supervision or in the custody of the commissioner of corrections.

7152. Jurisdiction.

The probate court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all proceedings concerning the emancipation of minors.

7153. Petition; contents.

(a) A minor may petition the probate court in the probate district in which the minor resides at the time of the filing for an order of emancipation. The petition shall state:

(1) The minor's name and date of birth.

(2) The minor's address.

(3) The names and addresses, if known, of the minor's parents.

(4) The names and addresses of any guardians or custodians, including the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services, appointed for the minor, if appropriate.

(5) Specific facts in support of the emancipation criteria in section 7151(b) of this chapter.

(6) Specific facts as to the reasons why emancipation is sought.

(b) A minor may not file a petition under subsection (a) of this section unless the minor has lived in Vermont for three months or longer.

7154. Hearing; parties; notice.

(a) Upon the filing of the petition, the court shall schedule a hearing.

(b) The minor's parents, guardian or other person charged with the custody of the minor shall be parties to the proceedings and shall be given an opportunity to be heard.

(c) At least 30 days prior to the hearing, notice shall be given to the minor's parents, guardian or other person charged with the custody of the minor, unless the court finds that their addresses are unknown, or that there are other reasons notice cannot be given.

(d) If the minor has been committed to the custody or guardianship of the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services, or a petition has been filed to commit the minor to the custody of the commissioner, the commissioner shall be a party to the action under this chapter.

(e) Any action under this chapter may be consolidated with any other action in the probate court involving the interest or welfare of the minor.

(f) The burden of proving facts necessary to sustain the petition shall be on the minor and shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.

7155. Findings; order of emancipation.

(a) After completion of the hearing and consideration of the record, the court shall make findings and issue its order. If the court finds that the minor meets the criteria in subsection 7151(b) of this chapter and that emancipation would be in the best interests of the minor, the court shall forthwith issue an order of emancipation.

(b) At the time of the hearing under this section the court shall consider the best interest of the minor in accordance with the following criteria:

(1) emancipation will not create a risk of harm to the minor;

(2) the likelihood the minor will be able to assume adult responsibilities;

(3) the minor's adjustment to living separate and apart from his or her parents, guardian, or custodian;

(4) the opinion and recommendations of the minor's parents, guardian or custodian.

(c) In ascertaining the best interests of the minor under this section, the court shall consider the appointment of a guardian ad litem.

(d) Any order of guardianship or custody shall be vacated before the court may issue an order of emancipation. Other orders of the family or probate court may be vacated, modified or continued in this proceeding if such action is necessary to effectuate the order of emancipation. Child support orders relating to the support of the minor shall be vacated, except for the duty to make past-due payments for child support, which, under all circumstances, shall remain enforceable.

(e) The court may require an emancipated minor to report periodically to the court or to another person specified by the court, regarding the minor's compliance with the provisions of section 7151(b) of this title. Failure to report as required may result in the emancipation order being vacated upon notice to the parties.

(f) An order of emancipation shall be conclusive evidence that the minor is emancipated.

7156. Effect of emancipation.

(a) The order of emancipation shall recognize the minor as an adult for all purposes that result from reaching the age of majority, including:

(1) entering into a binding contract;

(2) litigation and settlement of controversies including the ability to sue and be sued;

(3) buying or selling real property;

(4) establishing a residence except that an emancipation order may not be used for the purpose of obtaining residency and in-state tuition or benefits at the University of Vermont or the Vermont state colleges;

(5) being prosecuted as an adult under the criminal laws of the state;

(6) terminating parental support and control of the minor and their rights to the minor's income;

(7) terminating parental tort liability for minor;

(8) indicating the minor's emancipated status on driver's license or identification card issued by the state.

(b) The order of emancipation shall not affect the status of the minor in the applicability of any provision of law which requires specific age requirements under the state or federal constitution or any state or federal law including laws that prohibit the sale, purchase or consumption of intoxicating liquor to or by a person under 21 years of age.

7157. Recognition of out-of-state emancipation orders.

A minor who is emancipated by the lawful procedure of another state shall retain that status in this state and shall enjoy the benefits of this chapter while in this state.

7158. Order of emancipation obtained by fraud or withholding material information; voidability; effect on rights and obligations; commencement of proceeding.

(a) An order of emancipation obtained by fraud or by the withholding of material information shall be voidable. The voiding of any such order pursuant to this section shall not alter any contractual obligations or rights or any property rights or interest which arose during the period that the order was in effect. However, any such obligation, right, or interest, which benefits a person who caused or participated in the fraud or withholding of material information, may be canceled by the minor.

(b) A proceeding under this section may be commenced by any person or by any public or private agency. Notice of the commencement of the proceeding shall be consistent with the requirements of the initial hearing as required by this chapter.

7159. Legislative intent; minimum expense; forms.

It is the intent of the general assembly that proceedings under this chapter shall be as simple, informal and inexpensive as possible as these terms are used in 12 V.S.A. 5531(a), and to that end, the court administrator shall prepare and distribute to the clerks of the probate court appropriate forms for the proceedings which are suitable for use by minors appearing on their own behalf.