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Emancipation has been long recognized and has developed along two lines, judicially, also known as common law, and statutorily. While statutory emancipation is often viewed as being available only to minors, judicial emancipation is often only available to a parent. In jurisdictions throughout the country, being ``emancipated'' is a legal status a minor attains by either petitioning the court in accordance with statute, or by common law through the operation of certain events, such as marriage, entrance into active military service, and in some cases, parenthood. Once emancipated, minors have both the rights and obligations of adulthood because the legal barriers that often hinder minors who have not yet reached the age of majority have been removed. The rights conferred by statutory emancipation generally encompass the ability to legally enter into contracts and be financially and socially independent from parent(s) or guardian(s), as well as the ability to freely consent to medical care. The obligations imposed upon emancipated minors are also similar to those that adults must shoulder. Emancipated minors must be able to provide housing to shelter themselves and the means with which to support themselves financially. In most states, once a minor is emancipated, any parental obligation to support her financially is obliterated, including any financial help owed in the form of child support. Most states thus require the minor to show that she will be able to fulfill these obligations before the petition for emancipation is granted. In sum, emancipated minors are adults in the eyes of the law, and have most of the same rights and burdens as those who have reached the age of majority.

The importance of statutory emancipation was articulated by Judge Kuhn of the Delaware Family Court in a decision, where the court, ``regardless of [an apparent] temptation to act,'' was forced to dismiss a petition for emancipation for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.24 The court stated that:

Recognition of the notion that children should have increased freedom is also evidenced by the proliferation of emancipation statutes across the United States within the last thirty years.26 Currently, twenty-six states have either an emancipation statute, statutory scheme, or statutes by which minors may obtain majority status for a specific purpose, such as for a real estate purchase. For a complete look at the status of emancipation law throughout the United States, see the chart at the end of this section.


In the Matter of S.L. v. A. and Sh. L., 735 A.2d 433, 445 (Del. Fam. Ct. 1999).
Bruce C. Hafen and Jonathan O. Hafen, Article: Abandoning Children to Their Autonomy: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 37 Harv. Int'l L.J. 449, 457 (1996).

next up previous contents index
Next: Issues Up: Emancipation Previous: Introduction   Contents   Index
LCD Law Office #2