WASHINGTON, October 22, 2017 – Your kid is impossible and you want him out of the house. Or perhaps she wants to go out explore the world on her own. What are the legal ramifications when your children leave the family nest before age 18?
Federal and state laws frown mightily on parents abandoning or endangering their children, meaning those you sprouted who are still under the age of eighteen. Handing your child his or her toothbrush and saying “be safe out there” is mostly illegal because parents have the legal obligation to feed, clothe and educate their offspring.
For that reason, kicking junior out is a crime. It is called child abandonment. As a parent, you have the obligation to take care of your child, unless your child is emancipated.
What is Child Emancipation?
Emancipation is a legal pronouncement that a child is self-supporting and can be responsible for his or her own welfare. An emancipation petition is a request by a child under the age of 18 to have the legal right to care for himself or herself and take on adult responsibilities. In addition, emancipated minors can enter into contracts and make decisions about their medical care.
They can file lawsuits on their own, they can apply for public benefits and they can keep all the income they might earn.
However, emancipation does not allow children to do some adult things – such as voting or consuming alcohol – that require reaching a specific age.
Of particular note, in a divorce situation requiring a parent to pay child support, if and when the child becomes emancipated, the required child support ends.
Emancipation requires a minor to show the court that being on his or her own is in the child’s best interests. A judge will consider if the minor is sufficiently mature; if he or she can provide his or her own financial support, shelter, food and clothing; and obtain an education. The status of the relationship with parents is also considered. Parents must be notified about the emancipation request and they must be given an opportunity to weigh in on the request and either consent or object.
Children cannot petition to be emancipated in most states until they are 16 years old. In some states, however, that age can be younger. California allows children to seek emancipation at age 14.
In some situations, parents have continuing obligations to their children even after age 18. When children are mentally challenged, for example, parents may be required to continue providing for them and assure that their best interests are being protected. An emancipation request by such challenged children who have reached age 18 might find success if their mental disability is not so limiting as to preclude adult decision-making.
Emancipation of Child Actors and Athletes
There are those few, very special and very talented little tykes whose extraordinary abilities have been noticed by others, leading to their being lavished with money and support by these non-family members who possess a substantial personal income.
Examples of this situation include child actors, singers, or talented athletic kids with endorsement deals.
Unfortunately, the parents of such wunderkinds can be dirt-bag greedy people or perhaps simply irresponsible. As a result, many of these kids over the years have sought to “divorce” their parents.
Although this route is not always easy, several have ultimately been successful:
- Alicia Silverstone, for example, became her own boss at age 15 – four years before she starred in Clueless – so she could keep up with the demanding schedule that resulted from being a young, in-demand actress.
- Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s rock-star widow, became emancipated at age 16. She spent time in a juvenile correctional facility and several foster homes before gaining emancipation status.
- Macaulay Culkin, the child star of the Home Alone movies, became emancipated at age 16 and then took control of his $17 million fortune.
- Drew Barrymore, another early-age successful actress following her role in E.T., landed in rehab at the age of 13, and her drug addiction was well documented in the media. She filed for emancipation in juvenile court and became her own lady at age 15.
For the most part, your child’s experience in his or her pre- or early teens is not going to be filled with Hollywood lights.
But what happens if your child runs away or moves out?
Suppose your child is the absolute worst, being addicted to drugs, always in trouble with the law, stealing things from you, routinely skipping school or getting suspended or expelled, or becoming simply incorrigible. Or perhaps your child is the best. She is brilliant, polished in every way, and mature beyond her years.
In good situations or bad – meaning that deep down inside you are on the verge of complete despair because you don’t know where your child is, or on the other hand, if you would be relieved if junior moved out or simply left – you are still required to make an attempt to find and communicate with him, even if they does not respond.
Suppose a neighbor or relative agrees to let your child live in his or her home and agrees to take responsibility for your difficult child. Guess what? You are still responsible for that child’s necessary expenses, again meaning food, clothing, healthcare, and education.
You are still on the hook, unless your child joins the military or gets legally married. In either of these cases, “little you” becomes automatically emancipated.
Every family dynamic is different. Nonetheless, remember why you had kids and act accordingly, every day and every minute.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. The website for this business is brand new and Mr. Samakow will be most appreciative of any and all comments. www.thebusinessanswer.com.