Emancipation is the dream of many teenagers; the freedom from the controls of parents is alluring. The Texas Family Code permits emancipation in 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. If you are serious about emancipation in Texas then you should speak with a divorce attorney.
Texas law on emancipation of minors
A minor in Texas can emancipate from his or her parents if the minor meets specific requirements and follows a specific judicial procedure.
Under Texas Family Code § 31.001(a), a child may file for emancipation if the following criteria are met:
- The minor can manage their own financial affairs and is self-supporting; and
- The minor is at least 17 years old; or
- The minor is at least 16 years old and lives apart from his or her parents or legal guardian.
The petition for emancipation must state:
- The minor’s name, age, and place of residence;
- The name and place of residence of each living parent;
- The name and place of residence of the guardian of the person and of the estate, if any;
- The name and place of residence of the managing conservator, if any;
- The reasons why removal would be in the best interest of the minor; and
- The purposes for which removal is requested.
An emancipated minor is free to exercise the rights that other responsible adults enjoy; however, responsibility is a two-way street. The emancipated minor must also accept legal liability for the consequences of their actions.
Upon the issuance of an emancipation order, the legal disabilities of a minor no longer apply, including those involving:
- Capacity to contract: Minors generally lack the capacity to enter into contracts. Contracts with minors are considered voidable at the minor’s choice. An emancipated child can form a binding contract and will be held responsible for performing or breaching their contractual obligations.
- Capacity to sue or be sued: Minors cannot file a lawsuit on their own behalf or to serve as the defendant in a lawsuit. Emancipated children enjoy the right to sue for their rights while likewise being vulnerable to lawsuits.
- Capacity to marry: Minors are legally barred from getting married unless a court issued an emancipation order for general purposes. An emancipated minor may enter into a valid marriage.
- Capacity to consent to medical treatment: Minors also do not have the capacity to consent to medical or surgical procedures on their own behalf, except for rare exceptions in limited circumstances. However, an emancipated child may consent to medical treatment.
The Effect of Emancipation in Texas
Emancipation, in Texas, has several effects on the minor. The minor obtains the power to make and bind contracts, including car purchases, apartment leases, credit cards, etc. The minor becomes financially and legally responsible for his or her decisions. Also, 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 terminates as a legal matter. This means the parents no longer have a duty to provide housing, food, clothing, or other support. Child support terminates, if a court ordered it in the past. The parents also lose control over the financial and legal affairs of the child. 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.
There are some age-based rights in Texas not affected by emancipation. For example, an emancipated minor cannot vote or buy cigarettes before the age of eighteen. Emancipation gives the minor only those legal rights necessary to care for himself or herself.
Who is a minor under Texas law?
A minor is a person under age 18 who has not had the disabilities of minority removed for general purposes.
The disabilities of minority refers to the restrictions on the minor’s legal capacity. Those restrictions limit the minor’s ability to enter into contracts and make educational, medical, and financial decisions. Generally minors are subject to the decision-making of their parents, guardians, or conservators.
When Emancipation is Permitted and How to Become Emancipated in Texas
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. That can only happen if a parent consented in a sworn affidavit. In other states (or countries) the requirement may be more lax.
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 receive 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.
A court may emancipate a minor for general or specific purposes. If the court awards emancipation for general purposes then all of the legal disabilities of a minor are removed. If the court emancipates the minor for specific purposes then the minor’s disabilities remain for any reason not specifically removed by the court.
Emancipation of the Minor in Texas
Although emancipation might sound cool, a lot of responsibilities come with emancipation. 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.
Risks involved in emancipation in Texas and hiring a family law attorney to help
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 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.
The procedure for emancipation in Texas is a judicial process subject to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedures and the Texas Family Code. Failing to satisfy the specific requirements of the Texas Family Code and the procedural rules may result in spending time and money unsuccessfully. A family law attorney can guide you through this process to ensure you satisfy the legal requirements to pursue emancipation in Texas.
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.
Common questions about emancipation in Texas
How long does it take to get emancipated in Texas?
Generally emancipation can take four to six months so if you are less than six months away from turning eighteen it probably does not make sense to spend the money on emancipation unless there is a significant and urgent need to seek emancipation. If that is the case you should talk to a family law attorney about whether there are other quicker options to deal with the situation.
Is 17 considered a runaway in Texas?
Under Texas law only a child sixteen and younger can be charged as a runaway. A seventeen year old can leave the home but remains subject to the control of a parent, guardian, or conservator and remains disabled as a minor.
Do emancipated minors get money?
As an emancipated minor you can work and earn money and your parents have no right to control your earnings. Emancipation, however, does not award any kind of child support from your parents or the court. If a parent or conservator receives child support for you then that support order terminates. If you seek emancipation you need a plan to financially support yourself.
Is a pregnant minor considered emancipated in Texas?
No. Becoming pregnant or even having your own child does not change your legal identity as a minor. You can be subject to the disabilities of a minor even if you are a parent yourself.