We get lots of calls from youth interested in emancipation at the National Runaway Safeline. Many teens who want to move out of their home are seeking a legal pathway to independence before they turn 18. In many states, minors can petition the court to become an emancipated minor.
José* called wanting to know more about how he could get emancipated. He was having problems at home. He was the youngest of four, and his older siblings had already moved out of the home. That left José living at home with just his father.
Although they previously had a close relationship, José felt that his dad was overly critical and strict. “I can’t do anything right, everything I do or say he has some problem with it.” José wanted more freedom.
His father made him quit his fast food job, and rarely allowed him to do any activities outside of school because he wanted him to focus on grades. “I made all A’s and B’s, but he’s not happy unless I make 100% on everything.” José was an above average student but felt crushed by his father’s high standards.
“Can I go to live with my cousins and get emancipated?” José asked.
NRS’ front line team member Karen* spent some time talking José through the emancipation process. She explained that if he went to live with his cousins without his father’s permission, his father could report him to the police as a runaway, which would not be productive towards his goal of becoming emancipated. “Finding a job would be a good first step to take,” Karen said. “You may also want to speak with a lawyer or legal aid about the emancipation process in your state. We can find you a legal aid resource to talk to.”
José was disappointed that the process did not seem as straightforward as he had hoped. He didn’t want to do anything illegal but felt that he was ready to move out on his own, even though it was still a year and a half until he turned 18.
One of the most important factors in getting emancipated is employment and income.
Usually, minors have to demonstrate to a court that they are employed and that they would be able to provide for all of their own financial needs without support from a parent. This is something that many teens struggle to do, often working part-time while in school for low pay.
Having other family members willing to support them financially may not help either. Emancipation cases are decided based on the minor’s ability to care for themselves independently without help from a guardian. Judges also consider the youth’s maturity level, and it helps to be doing well at school. Even still, courts can be wary about granting emancipation, and some states do not allow for emancipation at all.
“It was smart of you to call and get more information,” Karen told José. “You seem like a smart kid, and it is understandable that you would want more independence.”
Karen provided José with some legal aid referrals, and José agreed that he needed to talk to his dad about how he had been feeling.
Karen also got José thinking about what his life might look like after being emancipated, like where he would live, how he would survive and take care of all his own needs with no guardian responsible for him. By the end of the call, he knew what steps he needed to take and had legal resources to help.
Emancipation is a complicated process. For youth looking for legal ways to move out before turning 18, call NRS to find out if emancipation is legal in your state and to talk to someone to find out if you might be a good candidate.
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*Names were changed.