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Emancipation and Your Legal Rights as a Minor

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, based on an article by the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts
Reviewed August 2023

If you are under age 18 and thinking about emancipation, there are things you need to know about how it works and what your rights are.

Have questions about your own situation? Contact the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts.

 

What is Emancipation?

Important:

Because there are no laws about emancipation of a minor in Massachusetts, it is very unlikely that a judge would give you one.

Emancipation is a legal process that lets a minor child get a court order to be legally independent. It can end some or all of the rights and responsibilities of the parents or guardians, such as financial support and making decisions for the child. If a child is emancipated, the parents or guardians don’t have the right to say where the child lives or goes to school, or how the child's money is spent. The parent/guardian also has no right to the child’s wages or earnings. Emancipation can be either partial or complete.

Partial emancipation

The minor is free to make their own decisions, but still has a right to financial support from their parents or guardian.

Complete emancipation

A parent's or a guardian’s duty to support the minor ends completely. Complete emancipations are rare. They usually happen only when there is a specific written agreement between the parent/guardian and the minor child.

 

Is there a formal court process for emancipation in Massachusetts? How do I get emancipated?

Unlike some other states, there is no specific law or formal legal process in Massachusetts for emancipation. This means there are no formal guidelines for a court or for you to follow.

It is very unlikely that a judge in the Probate and Family Court would grant your request for emancipation. It is more likely that a judge would either deny it right away or contact the local office of the Department of Children and Families. Especially if your story sounds like there may be abuse, neglect, or abandonment by your parent or guardian.

But, if for some reason the probate court personnel think that a court might consider your request for emancipation, you should get legal advice. Even court personnel have different ideas about if emancipation is an option. Also, minors can’t file in court on their own so you need an adult to file for you.

In general, a judge reviews many factors when deciding about emancipation. They may grant an emancipation if they are convinced that it is clearly in your best interest. The judge also needs to be sure that your parents/guardians are not using it to avoid child support obligations. It’s important to note that your circumstances don’t matter much. It’s very unlikely that you would be emancipated.

 

If I can’t be emancipated, what can I do?

Even if you can’t be emancipated, you might have options that let you live somewhere else. Your parents or guardian might let you live with adult relatives or friends, either through a guardianship or a caregiver authorization.

You do have rights. Remember that you don’t have to be emancipated to get cash assistance from the state or get certain medical procedures.

 

What is the “age of majority” in Massachusetts? When I turn that age am I automatically emancipated?

The “age of majority” in Massachusetts is 18. This means the age that you are legally an adult.

When you turn 18, you have “full legal capacity.” This means that you can make all legal decisions for yourself unless there is some other reason that legally keeps you from making such decisions. That reason might be something like mental inability.

Even though the “age of majority” is 18, this doesn’t mean that all obligations between you and your parents/guardians end when you turn 18. In fact, Massachusetts courts have stated that there is no fixed age when complete emancipation happens. It does not automatically happen at age 18. For example, sometimes parents/guardians have to support their child past their 18th birthday if the child is mainly dependent on them for support.

 

Am I emancipated if I enlist in the military?

Not necessarily. You may have a few more rights that are like when a minor is emancipated, but there are others you don’t have. You have to get permission from your parents/guardians to enlist in the military if you are under 18 years old. Also, the military has minimum age requirements. To enlist in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, you must be at least 17 years old.

If you enlist in the military in Massachusetts, you can get certain medical procedures without permission from your parents/guardians. But your parents/guardians might still have to financially support you. No court has ruled on this issue in Massachusetts yet. Also, enlistment in the military is not enough by itself to give you extra legal rights, like the right to enter a binding contract.

 

Am I emancipated if I get married?

No. As of July 2022, a state law says that if you are a minor you cannot get married in Massachusetts. You cannot get married even if you have permission from a parent or guardian.

 

Am I emancipated if I have a child?

No. If you have a child, you are not automatically emancipated. But you can get medical treatment for yourself and your child without needing your parent’s or guardian’s permission.

 

If I run away from home, am I emancipated?

No. Being a runaway does not make you emancipated. In fact, if you run away, your parent or legal guardian may file a CRA (Child Requiring Assistance) petition saying that you run away from home often or that you refuse to follow their rules. 

 

What things do courts look at to decide about emancipation?

Again, it is very unlikely that a court will consider your request for emancipation. But, if they do decide to consider your emancipation request, they might look at these things on a case-by-case basis:

  • Do you have an agreement with your parents/guardians that they don’t have to support you and you can make your own decisions?
  • Do you live at home?
  • If you live at home, do you pay room and board?
  • Do you pay rent somewhere else?
  • Do your parents/guardians discipline you and to what extent?
  • Do you have a job?
  • Can you spend your earnings without your parents’ or guardian’s control?
  • Are you responsible for your own bills?
  • Do you own a car?
  • Do your parents/guardians list you as a dependent on their taxes?

 

If I get emancipated, am I basically like an adult?

Emancipation gives you more independence and takes away some obligations for both you and your parents or guardian, but you are not necessarily seen as an adult. You still have to follow the law. For example, even if you are emancipated, you still can’t drive until you are 16, and you have to go to school through your 16th birthday. You can’t vote until age 18, and you can’t buy or drink alcohol until you are 21. Also, emancipation doesn’t let you remove yourself from having the Department of Children and Families involved.

But, if you harm people or property, you can be held responsible and sued as an adult.

 

More emancipation resources

CLCM phone help hours

The Children's Law Center of Massachusetts has phone help hours:

Monday - Friday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
1-888-KIDLAW8 (1-888-543-5298)

 

Free legal services

Contact the Legal Service Office in your area to learn more about your legal rights with emancipation, benefits, and other issues. These offices can also sometimes give you information about other agencies that can help you. 

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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