Anyone who was around in the 90’s and kept up with popular culture probably remembers when Maculay Culkin became “emancipated” from his parents after accusing them of embezzling some of the fortune he amassed as a child actor. I’ve often wondered just how a minor becomes emancipated and what exactly that means.
The term “emancipation” means the termination of rights over custody, control, services, and earnings of a “minor”, who is a person not yet 18 years old but having already reached the age of 16. In essence, it makes a person not yet 18 years old an official adult. Georgia law has codified the process of becoming “emancipated” in OCGA §15-11-200.
This process begins like all other family law cases: preparing and filing a petition in the county where the minor lives. This petition has to be filed in juvenile court and include the last known contact information for the minor’s parents or guardians, a declaration by the minor that he can take care of his own financial and social affairs, and the names of adults who have personal knowledge of the minor and his ability to take care of his own affairs, like a doctor, school administrator, or lawyer. This petition also must include a certified copy of the minor’s birth certificate and proof of where the minor is living if not with his parents. Then, the Court will assign a guardian ad litem or an attorney to represent the minor and possibly the parents if the parents oppose the emancipation and can’t afford their own attorney.
At this point, the Court will ask that the adults who vouched for the minor write affidavits attesting to their belief that the minor could and should be emancipated. Then, we have a hearing. If the minor’s parents object to the emancipation, the court will use the best interest of the child standard in addition to requiring the minor to establish: that he is a resident of the state, that he can manage his own financial affairs (which doesn’t mean collecting welfare or assistance) and personal affairs (which include housing, medical issues, etc.), and that the minor understands what his rights and responsibilities are upon emancipation. The preponderance of evidence standard is used during this hearing. The court would also take into account the report of the guardian ad litem as well.
So, what does it mean for a minor to be emancipated? Can he drink? Can he vote? The short answer is no. If there’s any statutory age requirement (i.e., you have to be 18 to vote), then you still have to follow that requirement. However, upon emancipation, a minor can enter into contracts, file lawsuits, retain his own earnings, work, get health insurance, register for school, and otherwise act autonomously.
But why would a minor want to be emancipated, aside from the obvious Macaulay Culkin reasons? The first thought that comes to my mind because of abuse or neglect. There are millions of teens that are homeless and living on the streets that could benefit from legal emancipation. There are millions of teens living in households with addict parents, where they have to essentially raise their brothers and sisters and otherwise act as adults. I’m reminded of the true story of a 16 year old girl named Gracie, who was forced to stay at home and play mother to her three younger siblings while her mom was in a downward spiral with crack cocaine.
These real life situations are the purposes of emancipation. Adulting is hard. Imagine trying to do it as a 16 year old kid with no legal rights. That’s enough to make your teenage angst pale in comparison.