Understanding the Emancipation of Children

If Greta Thunberg were born sometime during the industrial revolution, she probably wouldn’t be protesting about climate change. She’d probably be working. And it’s legal. From the late 1800s until the 1930s, child labor was legal. There was a time in America when 13-year-old orphaned boys and girls were sent to work as apprentices in a trade shop or as domestic helpers in homes. They also work in factories, coal mines, or on the streets selling newspapers.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case today. Children, however, continue to find themselves in vulnerable situations. Some parents are abusive to their children, or foster homes do not provide the best care. These are just a few of the cases when minors, typically children between the age of 14 to 17, can file for emancipation.

If you’re working for a non-profit and a child tells you that he or she wants to “leave” her parents or guardian and take on the world on his or her own, you want to know what emancipation is about. At some point, you might need the assistance of family law attorneys in Colorado Springs or New York, but the discussion below provides a few useful insights.

An Overview of Emancipation

Parents are supposed to provide for the needs of a child, such as food, clothing, and shelter. If there are no parents, the legal guardian is the one responsible for the child. Until a child turns 18 years old (19 or 21 in some states), parents are legally responsible for the child by providing at least the necessities.

Emancipation is essentially a child saying, “I want to live independently now. I don’t need or want your support.” Likewise, parents could also start the emancipation process, and they are essentially saying, “If you don’t want to follow our rules, then you can now live independently without our support.”

Since this is a legal process, it is the court who will decide if a child of 16 or 17 years is worthy of being emancipated.


Emancipation, however, is not straight forward, even in extreme situations wherein parents are abusive and negligent. Some requirements need to be met. If the child you’re helping wants to be emancipated, he/she must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • He/she got married. Note that there are still state laws that require permission from parents to get married while being a minor.
  • Joined the military, or
  • Obtained a court’s permission.

The Legal Process

Maslow's Hammer

So maybe now you can call your lawyer friend, because the “Petition for Emancipation” using form #JD-JM-90, must be filed in court. Usually, the court will hear the petition within 30 days. The conditions in the form must now be argued in front of the judge. Like in any court case, thorough preparation is necessary. The only person that can grant the petition for emancipation is the judge.

What Happens Next?

A newly emancipated person can enter into a legal contract. Thus, even though still a minor, they can now enter into employment contracts. However, since they are now signing the agreements, the responsibility now rests on their shoulders to fulfill the obligations. Parents no longer have control over their life or their choices.

There’s going to be a period of adjustment. As in any fight for independence, it always comes with a price. But it will be more than worth it.

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