Can I legally emancipate and live separately from my parents?

Recently on our legal forum a teenager asked, “I would like to be able to move out of my house and live separately from my parents. I am wondering if I have the right to do that without being considered a runaway and what steps I would need to take.”

What are my rights as an adult?

Although state laws vary, most states consider the age of majority to be eighteen years of age. There are other factors, however, such as whether you are married, whether you have joined the armed services, or whether you have filed for emancipation which can determine your rights.

Common rights you will have when your reach your state’s age of majority include:

  • Legal right to marry without your parent’s consent
  • Legal right to enter into contracts or to sue to enforce a contract
  • Legal right to be prosecuted as an adult for committing a criminal offense
  • Legal right to vote
  • Legal right to serve in the military

What if I want the right to be recognized as a legal adult?

Now, you mentioned you want the right to live separately and independently as an adult away from your parents. If you are sixteen years old you may have the right to file for emancipation which would allow you to take responsibility for your own life, live independently from your parents, and manage your own finances.

If your state’s court recognizes your right to emancipate from your parents you would then be able to:

  • Legal enter into contracts (i.e. housing and automobile agreements, apartment leases, bank accounts, credit cards)
  • Legal right to make your own medical decisions
  • Legal right to make your own educational decisions
  • Legal right to determine how your income is spent
  • Legal right to live independently from your parents

Emancipated minors, however, will not obtain all rights as an adult. In fact, even if you are emancipated you will still not have the legal right to vote, buy lottery tickets, drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.

It’s important to note that if you do emancipate from your parents the courts will not require your parents to support you financially or provide housing, food, or shelter. In fact, the relationship is considered terminated as a legal matter. This also means, however, that your parents will have no legal control over your financial or legal affairs and cannot determine where you reside.

When can you file for emancipation?

Just because you want to file for emancipation does not necessarily mean the court will grant your request. Assuming you meet the age requirements for your state, you will have to provide all the information required by your state. You will also have to prove to the court that you are financially independent from your parents, you are sufficiently mature to live on your own, and you have a safe and adequate place to stay.

As with most issues regarding a child’s living arrangements and support the court will weigh all of the facts of your case and make a determination based on what they determine is in your best interests, not just what you want.

Things to consider before seeking emancipation

Emancipation might sound like a glamorous idea, but before you take this significant step it’s important to consider the financial, emotional, and legal ramifications. While it might be the best choice for a child who is financially independent and who has parents who are emotionally or physically abusive, other minors might find it best to simply sit back and wait a few years and avoid what can be a very costly court battle or a decision that could permanently damage the relationship with their family.

Note: Minors may receive emancipation automatically if they get married or if they enter into the armed forces. Both of these actions generally require a parent’s consent.

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