One of the goals of this LO is to give recommendations on a standard that is more narrowly tailored than the current ``best interest'' standard used by Massachusetts' judges. Since the ``best interest'' standard is used in virtually every jurisdication, it is unlikely that a new standard would be implemented into a proposed emancipation statute. However, by analyzing how other state's emancipation laws are designed, it is apparant that inclusion of guidelines and requirements for both the judiciary and the petitioning minor can limit discretion and avoid many of the unintended consequences of other state's statutes.
Based on analysis of California, Michigan, and Washington's emancipation statutes, a proposal for a Massachusetts statute can be drafted in a manner that will be in the child's best interest. A thoughtfully drafted proposal will limit judicial discretion when making a best interest determination. Although this is not an exclusive list, an emancipation proposal should require: (1) parental support despite emancipation;404 (2) that the minor is educated405 and understands her rights, limitations, and obligations of emancipation;406 (3) that maturity level of the minor, and not an arbitrarily picked age, should be a determining factor;407 (4) completion of at least a high school education is mandatory;408 (5) that the minor currently has housing;409 (6) assign emancipation determinations to juvenile court;410 and (7) require an affidavit from an independent third party who has personal knowledge of the minor that states whether emancipation is in the minor's best interest.411
Unfortunately, past LOs have come to one unified conclusion concerning emancipation and its future in Massachusetts: it won't happen. This sentiment has been echoed by service providers and other parties interviewed by this year's law office for reasons ranging from expressing concerns that it is more of a detriment to the youth than a benefit to them, to the idea that all of the services that an emancipation statute would provide are already afforded youths through other statutory mechanisms, such as the mature minor doctrine.412 Through the LO's comprehensive research concerning this issue, we have formulated several recommendations for JRI were they to pursue the passage of an emancipation statute in Massachusetts.
In response to one of JRI's main concerns, LO #2 recommends that they look to Michigan's statute for a model of inclusion of a child support provision. The statute is relatively new but has so far gone unchallenged at least as far as this provision is concerned. LO #2 believes that it is helpful to look at this statute because it is the only one of the six states focused on which contains such a provision. It is apparent from this statute that the Michigan Legislature and Courts recognize the necessity of emancipation for some minors, yet still understand that certain realities exist that would make it difficult to survive without the continued support the minor is owed by one or both parent(s). In terms of the administering of a child support protocol, it would be beneficial to research the federal guidelines and understand what exists in Massachusetts in order to ensure that this part of the statute is strong and will really be beneficial to the minors. It would be extremely helpful to JRI for next year's LO to delve more deeply into the child support issue when they are looking at legislative intent to see if there are opinions from legislators not only on the state level, but also the federal, to reinforce the recommendations made to the Massachusetts legislature.
Second, a great majority of statutes utilize the ``best interests of the child'' standard when guiding the court's discretion. This standard is neither good nor bad, just as judicial discretion is neither good nor bad. Fortunately, this standard is seldom the only criteria relied upon. Many statutes ask the court to evaluate the maturity of the minor, including her ability to financially support herself and provide shelter for herself. These are very practical considerations for the court and seem to provide valuable guidance, while at the same time reigning in discretionary powers. Again, Michigan's statute is a very helpful example of the interplay between the common law ``best interest'' standard and the more practical concerns outlined above.
Finally, there is always the tension when formulating a new statute between wanting to allow discretion for individual circumstances and formulating narrow guidelines which provide direction for both courts and parties bringing suit. A comparison of Michigan and California's statutes is illustrative of this tension. California's statute regarding emancipation is extremely broad and, based on information from past LOs, somewhat useless because of the extreme amount of discretionary power allowed to the courts. Michigan's statute, on the other hand, is considered narrowly tailored and comprehensive, giving the court specific guidelines with which to work when deciding if a minor should be emancipated. A fine balance must be struck by the legislature when formulating a new statute, especially when that statute will affect such a large and vulnerable population. Contrasting the statutes from Michigan, California, and Washington will be extremely helpful in guiding the legislature concerning this balance, as well as researching appropriate legislative intent.