Washington's emancipation statute was implemented within the last decade. As such, there is little information by way of case law or law review articles on this statute. However, along with California and Michigan's statutes, it will provide guidance for an effective emancipation statute.
Washington's emancipation statute, effective January 1, 1994, is very focused on the minor as the important party rather than the parents. Under this statute, only a minor over the age of 16 years is eligible to petition the superior court.370 The statute does not specifically state that parents cannot petition, although most states that allow parents to petition explicitly say so. Also, the statute requires the petition for emancipation to contain the present address and length of residence of the petitioner; the name and last known address of the parents, guardian, or custodian; and a declaration by the petitioner that indicates her ability to manage her own financial, social, personal, and educational affairs, including any supporting information.371 After this information is considered by the court, emancipation is granted if the petitioner proves by clear and convincing evidence that she is at least 16 years of age, a resident of the state, and is able to manage her financial, educational, personal, and social affairs.372 Furthermore, the court shall deny an emancipation petition, opposed by the minor's parent, guardian, custodian or department, "unless it finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that denial of the grant of emancipation would be detrimental to the interests of the minor."373
The statute is very specific in terms of service and procedure.374 Procedurally, emancipation is granted after a hearing before a ``judicial officer.''375 In 2001, this section was rewritten to expand the number of persons who are qualified to preside over emancipation hearings. Previous to this, the section provided that only a ``judge'' could preside over the hearing, sitting without a jury.376 The minor must demonstrate to the judicial officer that she understands her rights and responsibilities, and the consequences of emancipation, prior to the granting of the petition.377 Further, the allegations of the petition are investigated, and a report is filed with the court by a court-appointed GAL.378 The appointment of a GAL is important here again not only because it is strong evidence that the statute is youth-oriented, but that it contains depth of thought and detail of the legislature.
After being granted emancipation, the minor is entitled to retain her own earnings, enter into contracts, and purchase real estate. Also, similar to the Michigan statute, Washington's statute identifies areas of the law where the minors, even though emancipated, will not be considered adults. These areas mostly encompass criminal law and statutory age requirements surrounding voting and alcohol consumption and purchase.379
The strength of Washington's statute is that it requires proof of the minor's ability to manage her own affairs, particularly financial, the court appoints a GAL, and allegations of the petition are investigated. Similar to the Michigan statute, these requirements help to ensure that the minor understands the rights and responsibilities and limitations of emancipation, and allows input from outside persons to assist the judiciary in making informed decisions about what is in the best interest of the child. The required ability to support oneself, coupled with evidence of emotional and social maturity, give the court a certain degree of discretion when considering emancipation, but not so much that these criteria are rendered meaningless. These requirements serve two beneficial functions: first, they place limits on the court's discretionary latitude because these factors must be present for the minor to even petition. This is beneficial because the statute, and the resulting court order, are more likely to be able to withstand an attack because they are specific without being probative. Second, the prerequisites filter out minors who may be trying to emancipate themselves but yet are not ready to handle the responsibilities of the status. The last above-stated status seems to serve this function as well, in that it appears to be a test of maturity.
Unfortunately, the statute explicitly states that the minor has no access to child support once emancipated, which evinces the nationwide opinion that once minors are emancipated they should be able to support themselves financially. In other words, if parents' control over their children is effectively destroyed by the court, parents should then also be financially free of their obligations of support.
Few emancipation statutes provide this level of detail. There are several provisions and general goals that should serve as a model for Massachusetts were it to consider formulating an emancipation statute. Since this statute is less than 10 years old, a search of legislative history and intent by next year's Law Office would be beneficial.