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An act by which a person (generally a slave or a minor) who was once under the authority of another is set free.

Emancipation is viewed in some jurisdictions as a liberation of the bound individual from their duty to serve and obey their parent(s)/owner(s). In others, it is considered a liberation of the parent(s)/owner(s) from their obligation to care for the bound individual.

Emancipation is either explicit or implicit. Explicit emancipation occurs by court order and generally involves the liberating entity’s declaration before a notary public and other witnesses that they intend to set the bound individual free. Implicit emancipation does not require a court order or testimony to be valid and occurs when a minor marries, reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21), is convicted of a felony, establishes a permanent residence away from their parents, or joins the armed forces.

Emancipated minors are generally allowed to engage in all sorts of economic activity but must also adhere to restrictions that, if exceeded, may warrant revocation of their emancipation.

Related terms:


Civil rights

Emancipated minor

Family & personal matters

Juvenile law

Juvenile justice


Thirteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment


[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]