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Emancipation

First enacted in 1876, Alabama's statute frames emancipation as relieving minors from the disabilities of non-age.179 The statute allows juvenile courts to relieve minors from disability of non-age who over the age of 18 years, provided it is in the minors best interest.180 Since the age of majority in Alabama is 19, one may assume that Alabama wants to limit the duration of time that minors can be emancipated before they reach the age of majority.

Obtaining relief from this disability is difficult for most minors in this state. The first section of the statute provides a detailed description of who can petition the court for emancipation, with only one provision allowing the minor, herself, to petition without the consent of another.181 The minor may only petition alone if there is ``no father, mother or guardian,'' or if the parents exist but are ``insane'' or have ``abandoned said minor for one year'' or more.182 Also, of the two other provisions, the first allows parents to petition for emancipation, seemingly without the minor's consent183 and the other requires that the minor have a guardian who agrees with the petition.184 The petition must be filed in the county of residence of the petitioning party.185 Once emancipated, the minor may contract and has the ability to buy and sell real estate, and all other such things she could legally do ``if 19 years of age.''186

The Alabama statute does not set out specific criteria that must be met in order for a minor to become emancipated prior to reaching the age of majority. However, some criteria was cited in Boykin v. Collins, a case in which the Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the city court's decision and held that the petition need not allege that the removal from disability of non-age will be in the best interest of the minor.187 Boykin, who was over the age of 18 years, was relieved from the disability of non-age by the city court after a review of the petition and the affidavits of two persons (relationship to plaintiff unspecified in the case) stating that it would be in the best interest of Boykin to be relieved of said disability of non-age and that Boykin was ``of discreet and mature judgment and competent to manage his own property and business.''188

The dearth of case law specific to the removal of disability of non-age, makes a review of existing case law on matters of child support and custody necessary to glean how the court determines whether a minor is emancipated. In a child support case, Anderson v. Loper, the father was attempting to prove that his daughter was emancipated, therefore terminating his support obligations.189 The trial court's determination was based upon the best interest standard since: "[t]he best interest standard affords freedom for the trial court to consider numerous and varied factors ... A multitude of facts are proper for consideration and there are no specific rules or guidelines that will control every case."190 After hearing testimony and observing the demeanor of the father, mother, minor, and other witnesses, the trial court held that although the daughter was 18 years of age, a high-school graduate currently living with her boyfriend and his family, attending college full-time and working part-time, she was not emancipated.191 Since the daughter was not emancipated and free from parental control, nor self-supporting, her father was responsible for her support.192 The appellate court affirmed, stating that since there was no finding that the trial court was plainly and palpably wrong, the trial court is the ultimate decision-maker.193

The best interest standard gives courts wide latitude in determining whether or not emancipation will be granted because it allows them to base all of their decisions, whether to the benefit or detriment of the minor, on this ambiguous and broad standard. This statute also allows the court to restrict and qualify the rights of a minor who have been emancipated by the court. However, these restrictions must be included in the judgment relieving the minor of the disability of non-age.194 It appears that Alabama recognizes the need and ability for some minors to be on their own but is not quite comfortable with giving minors total rights as courts do in other jurisdictions.

Once a minor becomes emancipated, the trial court generally has no jurisdiction to require a parent to provide support for the minor.195 However, support of an adult child may be ordered by the trial court in very limited exceptions, including for a mentally or physically disabled child who is unable to support herself, or for college expenses of a child who has reached the age of majority.196

Overall the statute makes it difficult not only to qualify for emancipation but also to garner all of its benefits when it is actually granted. If Massachusetts were to begin formulating an emancipation statute, this would not be the model to follow.



Footnotes

...179
Ala. Code 26-13-1 (2001).
...180
Id.
...181
Id.
...182
Id.
... consent183
Id. 26-13-1(1).
...184
Id. 26-13-1(3).
...185
Id. 26-13-5.
...186
Id. 26-13-5.
...187
Boykin v. Collins, 40 Ala. 407, 37 So. 248 (1904).
...188
Id. at 408.
...189
Anderson v. Loper, 689 S.2d 118, (Ala. Civ. App. 1996).
...190
Id. at 120, citing Hodge v. Hovey, 679 So. 2d 1145, 1148 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993).
...191
Id. at 119, 120.
...192
Id. at 120.
...193
Id.
...194
Id. 26-13-6.
...195
B.A. and E.A. v. State Department of Human Resources ex rel. R.A., 640 So. 2d 961 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994).
...196
Id. at 962.

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