Should You Help Your Child Become Emancipated?

There are situations where a parent may want to have a child legally emancipated. About half of the states have specific laws and procedures about this, while others will recognize emancipation if certain conditions are met. Read on to see if this is an option for you:

What Emancipation Means for You and Your Child

Emancipation means the child would be responsible for supporting themselves and making their own decisions. If you live in a state with special provisions for this, it would also mean that you would no longer be held legally responsible for the actions of the child.

In most situations child naturally becomes emancipated at the legal age of adulthood in their state (called the "age of majority.") In most states, this is at eighteen, but a few specify high school graduation either before or after, or reaching nineteen, and in Mississippi the age is 21. A disabled child may not be considered independent after the age of majority unless the parents agree to emancipate them.

If a child marries or joins the Armed Forces, they are already considered emancipated.

Reasons for Emancipation

If you are struggling to care for an adult child that is disabled or is unable to support themselves, it might be beneficial to seek their emancipation in the states that require parents to support them by law. Then the adult child may be eligible for additional government benefits and your income wouldn't count against them. You would need to check with a lawyer experienced with disability issues to see if this is legally possible or even preferable.

If the child was disabled before adulthood, then parents do not have an automatic release of their support obligation at the child's attainment of adulthood and it is worth noting that if your child has never lived independently, you could still be held responsible in some states even if the child became disabled after becoming an adult. If you are in the midst of a divorce, it is important to settle support issues of disabled offspring before the decree is final to prevent problems later. 

Even though an adult child is disabled, they may want to live independently and handle their own financial affairs.

A child under the age of 21 may want to go college but need to be emancipated to qualify for financial assistance in their own name. A divorced parent may want to stop supporting the child when they reach 18, whether or not the child has finished high school or attends college, if the child is also working full time.

You may be living a religious or cultural lifestyle that the child no longer wants to be a part of, and worry that their attitude will cause their younger siblings to follow suit. Forcing them to follow your rules may no longer seem possible, but on the other hand, you no longer wish them to live with you because of their resistance. A child may refuse to live with you for this or other reasons, and live by themselves (or move in with friends). In this case, you may not want to get them  involved in juvenile court especially if they seem to handling their responsibilities adequately, but you want to protect yourself from liability should they get into trouble.

You may also want to allow a child to live independently if you are a domestic relationship with someone and the situation is in some way harmful to the child, and you are unwilling to leave yourself. 

Finally, if the child is making a substantial income, you may want to separate your financial affairs to simplify things.


Generally speaking, a child will need to be at least 14 or 16 years old depending on where you live, and desire to be emancipated. They should be able to provide for themselves (if they aren't disabled), have the ability to pay bills and make arrangements for safe living conditions, and they are otherwise able to make adult decisions. They may need to show they are attending school also, and are making good grades.

You should seek professional legal advice from family lawyer, like A. Scott Kalkwarf to see if emancipation is legally possible for your situation and it is possible that they may have alternative suggestions to handle your problem that would be preferable. Depending on the state, you may have to petition the court to gain legal emancipation status for your child, or the designation may inferred to the child if they can show they meet the requirements.