Emancipation is the dream of many teenagers; the freedom from the controls of parents and being treated like an adult is alluring. In Texas, emancipation is allowed under the Texas Family Code in very limited circumstances. It is important to understand, if you are a minor seeking emancipation, the risks of that decision. I’ll discuss the permitted reasons for emancipation, the process involved and the risks minors take upon emancipation.
The Effect of Emancipation
Emancipation, in Texas, has several effects on the minor. The minor obtains the power to make and be bound by contracts, including car purchases, apartment leases, credit cards, bank accounts, etc. The minor becomes financially and legally responsible for his or her decisions. The minor does not obtain certain other age-restricted privileges, such as voting, buying lottery tickets, cigarettes, etc.
The relationship between the parent and child is terminated as a legal matter. This means the parents no longer have a duty to provide housing, food, clothing, or any other support to the child. Child support will terminate with the emancipation of the minor, if a parent has been ordered by a court to provide it. The parents also lose control over the financial and legal affairs of the child, including the right to control the earnings of the minor. This does not mean that a parent cannot have a relationship with the child or voluntarily provide assistance, it means the parent no longer has a legal duty to provide it.
When Emancipation is Permitted and How to Become
Emancipation is generally limited in Texas to three scenarios. First, marriage will emancipate a minor. The emancipation is automatic upon the valid completion of a marriage license. Minors, however, may only marry in Texas at the earliest at age 14 so long as a parent has consented to the marriage in a sworn affidavit. In other states (or countries) the requirement may be less lax. There have been cases where minors married in other states or Mexico and returned and lived with their new spouse and were found to be emancipated.
Second, if a minor enters the armed forces, he or she will be emancipated upon admission to the service. Again there are age limits and a parent must provide consent for the minor to enter the armed forces.
Third, a minor who is either seventeen or sixteen but living separately from his or her parents or guardians and independently managing his or her own financial affairs can seek an emancipation order from a family court or district court in Texas. This requires a legal proceeding and the parents must be given an opportunity to dispute emancipation. Ultimately the decision made by the judge, or jury, will be whatever is in the best interest of the minor from the view of the judge or jury, not the minor. Courts are reluctant to emancipate minors and typically only do so if the minor is able to financially support herself or himself and the emancipation will facilitate that by allowing the minor to sign rental agreements, buy a car, etc. However it is important to note that the court may also consider the family relationship, education, health and other significant factors of the minor in making that decision.
Risks of Emancipation to the Minor
Although emancipation might sound cool, a lot of responsibilities come with being emancipated. The safety net of parental support disappears and you can find yourself in a lot of trouble if you make bad financial decisions. Moreover, you may find that even though you are emancipated many people and businesses may be unwilling to trust your word that you are emancipated and refuse to deal with you as an adult. As a result, emancipation may be a useless effort.
Additionally, emancipation by court order can be very costly, especially if your parents seriously contest it. You could accrue thousands of dollars in court fees and attorney’s fees in the process. You may not have the savings or income to support those expenses. Not exactly the best way to blow $10,000 as a seventeen year old.
Another financial concern is if you (or your parent) receive child support on your behalf, especially if the court has ordered support through college. If you are emancipated there is a very high probability that the support will end and you will forego the financial support through the rest of high school or through college.
Also, emancipation is often a very difficult experience for the family and may cause long term harm to your relationship to your family. While you might think your parents are the worst people on earth today, you might have a change of heart in a few years. If you permanently harm that relationship, you may never have the chance to repair it. You may see emancipation as an opportunity to stay out all night with your friends and do what you want, but your parents may see it as a painful, public rejection.
All of those risks considered, there are some situations where emancipation is the right thing to do, especially if there is an emotional, physical, or financial abuse of the minor. If you believe your situation can only be helped by emancipation or your child is seeking emancipation, contact an attorney to discuss your situation and the right course of action.