Emancipation in California
Emancipation is a legal way for a 14 to 17-year-old to become free from their parent's custody and control. In many ways, they are legally like an adult.
This Guide has basic information about what emancipation means, how to become emancipated through the court, and resources where you can get more information and help.
What emancipation means
You are free from the custody and control of your parents (or guardians)
If you're emancipated, you can do many things that you would normally need your parent's permission to do. For example, you can live where you want. You can also apply for a work permit, keep the money you earn, get a credit card, and sign up for school without needing your parent's permission or consent.
Your parents are no longer required to support you
If you're emancipated, you'll need to support yourself. Your parents are no longer required to support you and no longer control your finances. You will be responsible for any money you owe, and you can also be sued in court.
You are not a legal adult in all ways - you are an "emancipated minor"
Some laws that apply to children will still apply to you. For example, you still must go to school. You would still need your parent's permission to marry. You have to wait until you are 18 to vote, and wait until you are 21 to drink or buy alcohol. Someone who has sex with an emancipated minor can still be arrested for statutory rape, unless they are legally married to each other.
How to become emancipated
There are three ways to get emancipated:
- Get legally married. In California, anyone under 18 must have a parent's permission and get permission from the court to get married.
- Join the military. If you are under 18, you must have permission from your parent and the military.
- Get a court order saying you are emancipated. You can get emancipated if you file an application (a petition) and a judge signs a court order called a Declaration of Emancipation. For a judge to sign, you need to prove:
- You're at least 14 years old.
- You aren't living with your parents. Your parents don't mind that you moved out.
- You can handle your own money and pay your bills.
- You have a legal way to make money.
- Emancipation would be good for you.
No. Even if you're a parent, if you are under 18 your parents still have the right to custody of you and the responsibility to support you, until you turn 18 or become legally emancipated. If you're a teen parent who applies to become emancipated, you will still need to tell the court how you will support yourself financially. The court may not agree to an emancipation if your only source of income is child support or public assistance (welfare).
There may be options other than emancipation
You may want to consider going to counseling with your parents or getting help from a public or private agency. You could also live with another adult, like a family member or family friend.
Whether to become emancipated is a serious decision. Talk to a trusted adult and ask a lawyer questions. You can also get more information from Legal Services for Children, which has an Emancipation Manual for teenagers. Your local court's Self-Help Center staff may be able to give you more information about the court process, and you may be able to get advice from a free or low-cost lawyer.