For months, Jodie had waited in anticipation for New York State University to send their response as to whether or not she had gotten accepted into the college. Her goal was to become a famous movie director after she had gotten a degree in Film Production from NYU, which was located in one of the most happening cities in the country. Her parents weren’t too fond of this idea, and looked down upon her decision to attend the school. They didn’t go to college, so they decided that they wouldn’t allow her to go either. Against her parent’s will, she secretly applied to the university anyway. Three months later, a large letter with the initials “NYU Admissions Department” which graced the smooth envelope addressed to Jodie arrived in the mail. Excitedly, she opened it up and read “Congratulations, you have been accepted!” She jumped for joy, until her parents found out, and refused to let her travel 2 thousand miles to attend the university. “Well, if you don’t like my decisions, I’ll just move out!” is what Jodie screamed at the top of her voice while storming up the stairs to her room in tears. She then though, “Hey, why don’t I just leave anyway? It can’t be too hard to live on my own…”
Quite often in the United States, teenagers have decided to do just that, and have gained the legal power to make their own financial and life decisions. But it’s not easy, and the process of becoming legally independent before you’re 18 can be lengthy and difficult. “Divorcing your parents,” as some refer to it, doesn’t happen just because you’re tired of being yelled at, and it is not a process to be taken lightly. Becoming emancipated means that it is necessary to completely support yourself financially, and to also have the right to make decisions which would normally need parental consent. To be emancipated by the court, you must be at least 16 years old. You must also meet one of the following conditions: You must be married, be in the U.S. armed forces, must be living apart from your parents or guardian and be managing your own money, or the court must decide that emancipation is in the best interests of you, or your parents. Most people wonder if emancipation is ethical or not. If a parent can’t divorce their child, how can a child divorce their parent?
Normally, a parent has legal power over a minor until he or she reaches the age of 18. Legal dependence is defined by a California law (Code 19-7-1) as “remaining under the control of one’s parents, who are entitled to the minor’s services and the proceeds of their labor.” In other words, until you’re 18, your parents legally have control over you and any money you may earn. On the contrary, there are options that can be undertaken to disregard those legalities. According to many laws in the United States, there are three ways that a parent’s rights can be given up: adoption, mistreatment of the child, or the marriage of the child.
In adoption parents can give up their rights or they can be taken away by the state, says Ann Deibel, a consultant with the Office of Adoption in the Department of Human Resources (DHR). A parent can give her child to DHR, a licensed adoption agency, or to another adult through the Superior Court.
Parental power can also be lost because of neglect or abuse such as a child often being left home alone or in the neighborhood for long periods without supervision. Likewise, if the child is frequently hungry, dressed inadequately for the weather, absent from school frequently, bruised or has other marks of physical violence, withdrawn or overly aggressive, and not receiving needed medical attention Deibel says although the department is responsible for trying to “reunify the family,” they can petition to terminate the parents’ rights in juvenile court. To most, it seems fair for a child to have a say as to whether or not he or she wants to leave from their household, but in instances like this, the state would take the liberty to remove the child right away.
The third way a parent’s rights can be relinquished is through marriage of the teen. The Georgia Code for instance, states that “Parental power shall be lost by: Consent to the marriage of the child, who thus assumes inconsistent responsibilities.” In other words, when teens get permission to marry, they become legally independent.
Some states, such as Florida make no legal provisions for teenagers who simply don’t want to live at home anymore. What about all the teens who say, “I can’t wait to get out of this house!”? What separates these cases from those in which emancipation is a logical next step such as the examples above?
According to Chief Judge of the Fulton County Juvenile Court, Sanford Jones, “It’s very fact-specific. There is no set qualification as to who can become emancipated… I had one case with a young woman who’d been living on her own, not knowing where her parents were, and that made sense for her. But I’ve had kids come in just saying, ‘I don’t like answering to my parents; I want to get emancipated,’ and that doesn’t mean as much.” A young person who is at least 14 years old may petition the Superior Court of the county in which he or she lives. The petitioner must state that she is willingly living apart from her parents with their permission and is supporting herself financially in a legal manner. The court will notify your parents or guardian and the district attorney or your probation officer if you are on probation. The court will then decide whether granting you emancipation is in your best interests. If the court declares you emancipated, your DMV identification will show that you are emancipated, so people can treat you as an adult when you do things like apply for a job or enroll in college. The court may later set aside your emancipation, if it finds that it didn’t know important facts when it granted it, or if you later cannot support yourself financially and become dependent upon public assistance.
As for how many teenagers undertake these proceedings, Jones says the cases are few and far between, “I hear of maybe two or three a year,” he says, “so probably less than a dozen happen annually statewide. It isn’t frequent at all.” Judge Jones also showed negativity towards the legal process “You don’t have the right at your age to choose where you want to live, or where you go to school. You shouldn’t have the right to chose to get rid of your parents.”
Emancipation began in the 1981 Northern District of Georgia District Court Case Street vs. Cobb County School District, a 17-year-old unmarried student at South Cobb High School petitioned to be recognized as legally independent of her parents. She lived on her own and wanted to attend school in the district in which she lived, as opposed to the one in which her parents lived. The courts eventually ruled that the young woman was legally independent of her parents, and legally recognized as emancipated.
This ruling took into account that while the girl’s parents wished her to return home, she had no intention of doing so and had fully supported herself for four months. She was not married, but her mother said that although she wanted her daughter to return home, she would consent to her marrying her boyfriend. The court determined that to recognize a married minor as emancipated, while requiring a single person to remain in their parents’ care until the age of 18, was unreasonable. This case set a precedent for unmarried minors to be legally independent of their parents in Georgia.
These days, some minors try to live away from their parents through more unofficial means. One approach some teens take is to run away from home. But, running away is a juvenile legal offense. “You are legally not emancipated if you run away, but you technically are if you can support yourself,” clarifies Judge Jones, but the average runaway is not able to support themselves and, therefore, are not really emancipated. If a person under the age of 17 runs away from home, parents can issue a warrant. Then, the police can pick up the teen and return him or her to the parents, or to the Department of Family and Children Services. If there is no warrant, the teen can not be picked up as a runaway but can be held on another violation, like curfew.
Emancipated minors are responsible for themselves when it comes to everything, once the final law is put into place. Emancipation may seem glamorous, but life without parents is not all partying and eating what you want, there are negatives and positives just like there are for most decisions that are made.
Life with out parents can be a very positive experience if you have the ability and self worth to take charge of your life. Some optimistic advantages of being emancipated are as follows. A teenager may get their own place to live, but he or she will be responsible for paying the rent and any other costs. Also, he or she may get medical care without parental consent. A teen can sign contracts in their own name and are responsible for living up to the contract. It is possible to sue other people, and also be sued by others. A teen would no longer under the control of his or her parents, which means that the parents will have no obligation to support the teen financially, or provide any food, clothing, or shelter. Buying and selling property is possible for an emancipated child. Also, obtaining a driver’s license or marriage license or joining the armed services without your parents’ permission is possible as well. Lastly, you may enroll in a school or college of your choice without asking your parents.
Where there is a positive approach to a situation, there is also a negative approach as well. Emancipation is a major decision that can help a mature teenager who is getting little help from his or her parents to live a more independent life. But emancipation can also cause hard feelings within a family. It is sometimes possible for a teenager to get the relief and help that he or she needs without taking this step. For example: If a teen needs some relief from family problems, he or she might be able to stay with a friend or in a youth shelter for awhile. Most youth shelters will need parents’ permission to let a child stay overnight. In a case where the parents have forced the teenager to leave, or will not let he or she return, or if it would be dangerous for he or she to return, that teen may be eligible for financial help from that state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) even if you are not emancipated. You may be able to get help from the Department of Children and Families until you turn 18, including help in finding shelter.
Justin Strickland, an 18-year-old who attends West Lake High School in Southern California, has been emancipated since August, at which time he was 17. Justin says his reasons for leaving home were complicated and “not something I want to explain in full.” Justin’s life is nothing if not difficult these days. “I have a boring social life. I might go see my friends if I have time. I really don’t go to parties,” Justin says. He makes it clear that living on his own is not easy, frankly describing his daily routine: “I get up at about 5 a.m, go to class until 1, and from there I go to work from 2 to 5 p.m. and come home and do homework. I cook and there are dishes to wash and laundry to do. And then around 11:30 or 12 p.m., it’s time for bed so that I can wake up in the morning.”
Could you do everything Justin does? Being emancipated means you must work for yourself, provide substantial health care as well as finish your education.
Justin says about his schoolwork, “I don’t think it’s affected mine.” But then he goes on to say, “There are times when I have to settle for a “B” because I don’t have the time to devote it to the subject.” “I don’t live as comfortably as I did when I lived at home. There is no one to take care of me when I’m sick; there’s no one to pick me up when it rains, and I have to walk a mile to my bus and back,” says Justin. These difficulties are compounded by the lack of emotional support that most teenagers receive from their families. “You really depend on the emotional support from friends,” he explains, on dealing with being independent. “The support network is really important.”
In my opinion, I think that emancipation is a good idea for the most part. To help the process run more smoothly, I think that there should be certain guidelines that should be made clearer to teenagers considering this type of legal action. First of all, I suggest that there should be some sort of trial run for the teen before he or she is legally emancipated. That person should have six months or so to show that he or she is responsible financially, by having a stable, profitable job. This will be able to show whether that person can afford a proper home, and the necessities that are needed daily, such as food and clothing. Also, education should be mandatory. That teen should be able to show proof that he or she had been in some sort of education program. Likewise, good grades, and progress should be recorded, and be mandatory. If these requirements are met consistently without parental involvement, emancipation should take progress legally. A child who can take care of these responsibilities for that amount of time shouldn’t have a hard time performing that same sort of routine for the rest of his or her life.
On the contrary, if these requirements are not met, and the child can not support his or herself, than obviously, legal action should not take place. I think it is important for the teenager to prove himself before legal action takes place.
In conclusion, I feel that emancipation will become more popular as today’s society becomes more independent. Kids are becoming more and more responsible because of their sources of education, and from the problems that arise in the household. Sometimes in broken homes, children are forced to take responsibility for siblings and for parents, so why not for themselves legally? Some may say that emancipation is not ethical, or logical, but to the teenager himself, it is quite the contrary. It can be for many good causes, such as in Jodie’s case, where now, she will be able to attend an extraordinary college and earn a very respectful degree without her parents holding her back.