The general assumption is that a minor becomes emancipated at the age of 18, but legal emancipation is not dependent on age. In New Jersey, the concept of "emancipation" is simply defined as the process of being free from the influence of one's parents. In turn, the parents are also freed from the legal and financial obligations they have towards their children. The point at which emancipation occurs is different for each family, but in most cases, it doesn't happen until the child has graduated from college, or is able to earn a living.
In some cases, a child may choose to be emancipated from his or her family even before the age of 18. Celebrities such as Drew Barrymore and Macaulay Culkin, for example, petitioned the courts for emancipation from their parents at 15 and 16, respectively. Barrymore's petition was based on her parent's reckless lifestyles, which included heavy drug use that led to Barrymore seeking drug treatment by the age of 14. Culkin struggled with drug problems as well, but his petition was based on his belief that his parents were mismanaging his funds. The court agreed, and ordered his parents to pay him a huge settlement, in addition to granting his emancipation request.
While these individuals are wealthy celebrities, many ordinary families struggle with differences that may need to be resolved in court. Children have the right to protect themselves from abusive or irresponsible parents, or take responsibility for their own welfare, if they meet certain legal requirements. In New Jersey, a child under the age of 18 can ask to be emancipated under the following conditions:
- The child becomes pregnant or has a baby.
- The child is married. Parental consent is needed if the child is under 18, but at least 16. Marriages involving children less than 16 require court approval, in addition to parental consent.
- The child becomes a member of the armed forces.
- The child is living on his or her own.
It's important to note that an emancipation request is not automatically granted, even if a child meets one or more of these conditions. Emancipation requests must be examined through a court hearing, where a judge will listen to all the involved parties to determine what's in the child's best interests. The judge will also need to determine whether the child is responsible enough to handle their own legal and financial affairs. Thus, if a minor is asking to be emancipated because his parents are too strict, or they want to move in with a boyfriend their parents don't approve of, those are not good enough reasons to approve an emancipation order. To find out more about New Jersey's emancipation laws, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Whether you are a child who wants to be emancipated, or the parents of a child seeking emancipation, sound legal advice from an experienced attorney is essential when dealing with this sensitive, and often misunderstood legal issue.