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Emancipation

Michigan's current emancipation statute began in 1968, and was most recently amended in January 1, 1998.287 Emancipation is granted in Michigan by operation of law or pursuant to statute 722.288 Emancipation under operation of law occurs in limited circumstances including, but not limited to, when a minor reaches the age of 18 years, is validly married, or is on active duty with the armed forces.289 Alternatively, a minor may petition the family division of circuit court in the county were they reside.290 A minor must include in her petition a declaration that she is able to manage her financial, personal, and social affairs.291 The petition must also include an affidavit by one of the named persons including, but not limited to, the minor's physician, a psychologist, a member of the clergy, a certified social worker, a teacher, or school administrator, or a law enforcement officer who states he or she has personal knowledge of the minor's circumstances and, given the circumstances, emancipation is in the minor's ``best interest.''292 If the minor's custodial parent(s) is (are) providing support and does (do) not consent to emancipation, the court may dismiss the petition solely on that basis.293 The court is able to investigate the allegations within the petition and appoint legal counsel for the minor and/or the parent(s) or guardian if the petition is opposed.294

Emancipation is granted by the court upon a finding that the minor is at least 16 years of age, has demonstrated her ability to manage her financial, social, and personal affairs, and has proof of housing. The court also considers the parents` or guardians' lack of objection to the petition, and the fact that they are not supporting the minor financially. The minor must also understand the rights and responsibilities that come with her emancipated status.295 The minor carries the burden of proof of showing, by a preponderance of evidence, that emancipation should be granted.296 Similar to the California statute, the petition is voidable upon a showing that it was obtained fraudulently and can be rescinded if the emancipated minor becomes indigent and has no means of support.297

Once a minor is emancipated, she is entitled to all the rights and responsibilities that a person who has reached the age of majority is entitled to unless there are statutory or constitutional restrictions. These rights include the ability to enter into contracts; to sue and be sued; the right to earn a living; authorize health care; to register for school; and to retain her earnings.298 Furthermore, under the statute, the parents or guardians are obligated to support the minor.299

This state's comprehensive statute is of particular interest to this year's Law Office, because its structure and requirements are such that the best interest of the minor standard is somewhat described, and judicial discretion is limited. Despite the lack of case law interpreting this statute, the statute itself is comprehensive and incorporates many features that researchers have suggested when studying other state statutes.300

Michigan's Emancipation of Minors Act can be considered ``limited'' or ``partial'' because, unlike California's statute, it does not terminate parental financial support.301 This statutorily required parental obligation relieves financial stress to the minor and allows her to continue schooling. Similar to the California statute, Michigan allows only the child to petition for emancipation.302 This is important because as studies indicate, many emancipation petitions are filed by parents to abdicate their parental duties.303 However, prior to the amendment of this statute, parents were able to legally abandon their children, and were not obligated to notify the child of their intent.304 These features of Michigan's statute are of particular interest because Massachusetts legislators have expressed concerns and hesitation about emancipation terminating parental support obligations, and parents, for selfish reasons, emancipating their children.

From a best interest perspective, the Michigan statute requires the minor to provide specific and detailed information to the court prior to the grant of emancipation.305 This information includes the minor's ability to manage her financial, personal, and social affairs; proof of employment; proof of housing; and proof that she understands her rights and responsibilities as an emancipated minor. These requirements address and rectify many of the unintended consequences of California's statute discussed above that were contrary to the minor's best interest. Michigan's statute also contains a provision that allows an emancipation order to be rescinded upon a finding that the minor is indigent and has no means of support.306

In addition to requiring continued parental support to the emancipated minor, perhaps one of the most exciting features of the Michigan statute is the requirement that the petition include an affidavit by at least one of 13 named professionals, stating that he or she has personal knowledge of the minor, and that emancipation is in her best interest.307 This requirement allows the court to make informed decisions about the minor's best interest, qualifications, circumstances, and abilities, as viewed by a third-party professional.

The Michigan statute is comprehensive, and although it relies on the subjective best interest standard, it limits discretion of the judiciary in several ways, including the high burden of proof placed upon the minor seeking emancipation. Requiring minors to prove that they have a source of income and housing, requiring that the minor understands their rights and obligations, and requiring an affidavit by an independent third party are some of the specific criteria this statute demands, thus giving guidance to the presiding judge and limiting her discretion.



Footnotes

...287
Mich. Stat. Ann. 722.4 (LEXIS L. Publg. 2001).
...288
Mich. Stat. Ann. 722 (LEXIS L. Publg. 2001).
...289
Id. 722.4.
...290
Id. 722.4(a)-(e).
...291
Id. 722.4(a)(1).
...292
Id. 722.4(a)(2).
...293
Id. 722.4(b)
...294
Id.
...295
Id. 722.4(c)(2).
...296
Id. 722.4(c)(3).
...297
Id. 722.4(d)(3).
...298
Id. 722.4(e).
...299
Id.
...300
see Sanger and Willemson, supra n. 37.
...301
Id. 722.4 (e)(2).
...302
Id. 722.4 (a).
...303
Report of LO #1, 2000-2001.
...304
Id. at 27.
...305
Mich. Stat. Ann. 722.4(c)(2)(LEXIS L. Publg. 2001).
...306
Id. 722.4(d)(3).
...307
Id. 722.4(a)(2).

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LCD Law Office #2