An emancipated minor is a minor who has been judicially emancipated from their parents, or has reached the age of majority and is therefore free from the custody and control of their parents. Such individuals are expected to support and care for themselves.
A minor may be emancipated either expressly or implicitly. Express emancipation occurs by court order. Implicit emancipation occurs upon the satisfaction of a liberating condition and does not require a court order for validation.
Examples of express emancipation include: voluntary emancipation by a minor’s parents, constructive emancipation (release from abusive or irresponsible parents) by the state, and judicial emancipation of orphans aged 18 or 21.
Implicit emancipation occurs when a minor reaches the age of majority, marries, leaves school or home, enlists in the military, is convicted of a crime as an adult, or cohabitates without parental consent.
Though emancipated minors are generally free to participate in civil society as adults, many states have contractual laws that limit their ability to engage in certain types of covenants (specifically labor contracts). Violation of contractual law can result in minors having their emancipation revoked.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Strack v. Sticklin (Miss. App. 2006), emancipation frees minors and their parents/guardians from any duties owed to each other within the context of the parent-child relationship. Upon emancipation, minors assume the liberty to manage their earnings as they please.
Reaching the age of majority does not automatically emancipate a minor if there are other circumstances justifying the retention of their status. For example, in Steeves v. Berit (Mass. App. Ct. 2004), the plaintiff’s daughter did not attain majority status, despite reaching the majority age of eighteen, because she was actively pursuing a college education. Massachusetts family law mandated that in such circumstances, emancipation would not occur until the child completed college in the “normal course” or had attained the age of twenty-one, whichever event was last to occur.
[Last updated in November of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]