The Truth About What It Means to Be an Emancipated Minor

jaden will smithI was as surprised as anyone when Jada Pinkett Smith's son, Jaden, asked to be an emancipated minor when he turns 15. You would think he would LOVE living with two of the coolest parents in the world! It's not like his parents are like Ariel Winter's mom. But it also got me wondering what the laws are about emancipation. How does this all work, anyway? Can a kid and his parents just ... you know, declare it and go from there?

Turns out it's a wee bit more complicated than that. Still, there are some 20 million emancipated minors in the U.S. Here's the 101 on becoming an emancipated minor and the most common reasons for it.


Laws vary from state to state. Just saying that up-front. The following are generalizations, but things may be different depending on where you live.

A court decides. In most states you can't just declare yourself emancipated. You have to file a petition with family court and prove that you can support yourself. Then a judge decides if it's in your "best interest" to be emancipated from your parents. Except in cases of abuse, that's not easy to prove. However, emancipation is usually granted if the parents agree to it.

It's partly about work and money. A large part of becoming an emancipated minor is that it allows a minor to sign contracts without their parents' permission or even influence. So in Jaden's case, this means he can choose movie roles without checking with his parents first.

Why? There are many reasons why a minor would want to be emancipated from their parents: To join the military at the age of 17, if you've graduated high school early and are starting college, if you get married, if your parents are abusive or neglectful, if your parents are taking advantage of money that is legally yours but that they have stewardship over. Kids sometimes petition if they have philosophical or religious difference with their parents, but those are seldom granted.

Emancipation from foster care. This is a whole 'nother thing. Kids who emancipate from child welfare have a harder time finding food and shelter and are more likely to end up in prison. Unfortunately, these kids are usually leaving foster care because it's failed them already, so this is a problem all of society shares.

Is it worth it? Many emancipated youth think they are ready to live on their own, but find out that it's actually a lot harder than they anticipated. Half of minors are unemployed within two to four years of emancipation. And 40 percent are homeless within 18 months, according to studies by Every Child Foundation and the John Burton Foundation. And yet, in some cases, it turns out to be the best choice a teen can make.

Do you know anyone who became an emancipated minor?


Image via Splash News

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