In August 2020, fifteen-year-old Claudia Conway took to the popular social media apps TikTok and Twitter to publicly announce her decision to file a petition for emancipation from her parents, Kellyanne and George Conway. While Claudia Conway’s followers may have come to expect her online criticism of her parents, particularly of her mother’s position as a key White House advisor, the mention of emancipation caused many to stop scrolling. Claudia Conway is not the first teenager to push for emancipation from their parents, but her proclamation made people stop and ask “what is emancipation, exactly?”
What is Emancipation?
Age plays a key role in the emancipation process, and what Claudia Conway shares with celebrities like Drew Barrymore, Macaulay Culkin, and Ariel Winter besides prominence and celebrity status is that they were all minor children who sought emancipation from their parents. Generally speaking, a minor child is defined as someone who has not yet reached the “age of majority” which legally separates childhood from adulthood depending on the jurisdiction and application. In the United States, the age of majority is considered to be 18. Therefore, in most circumstances, children under the age of 18 are legally referred to as minor children.
While emancipation traditionally occurs naturally once a child reaches the age of majority (18), emancipation prior to that age grants minor children with the ability to be treated and recognized as a legal adult. Before reaching the age of majority, a minor child is afforded certain protections by the court. After emancipation, those protections are rolled back allowing them to enter into contracts and conveyances, sue and be sued, and to transact business as if they were an adult – among other things.
In many ways, emancipation resembles a divorce proceeding – but between a minor child and their parents or guardian. In North Carolina, the process of emancipation is generally used to absolve dependency in a parent-child relationship. This means that upon emancipation, a parent or guardian relinquishes control over the child and is also relieved of the burden of financial support and responsibility. For example, in Shoaf v. Shoaf, the Supreme Court of North Carolina held that upon emancipation, a parent no longer had a duty to support her child, or the right to control and receive the child’s wages. Therefore, once emancipated, not only do children have the authority to conduct themselves as an adult, but they also give up the right to be financially supported by their parent or guardian.
Emancipation Laws Vary From State to State
It is important to remember that laws governing the emancipation process may vary from state to state. Some states may require a minor child to be a certain age to be emancipated, others may have specific guidelines or circumstances that must be met. For example, under North Carolina General Statute §7B-3500, a minor child is eligible for emancipation and may petition the court in the county in which they reside, requesting to be emancipated, if he or she is 16 years of age or older and has resided in the same county in North Carolina, or in a federal territory within the boundaries of North Carolina, for six months prior to filing the petition. The statute also requires that the petition be properly signed and verified, and that it must contain certain requisite information such as the minor child’s full name, birth date, state and county of birth, current address and how long he or she has lived there. Additionally, the minor child must provide a certified copy of his or her birth certificate and the name and last known address of the parent or guardian. Finally, the minor child must state the reasons that he or she is requesting emancipation and provide a plan for meeting his or her needs once emancipated. This plan is often evidenced by a statement of employment and wages earned that is verified by their employer.
What Happens Once a Minor Child Decides to Pursue Emancipation?
While the process may vary slightly from state to state, in North Carolina once the minor child has collected all the necessary materials and has filed the petition for emancipation with the court, he, she, or they becomes the “petitioner,” and the parent, custodian, or guardian is known as the “respondent.” After filing, a copy of the filed petition is then served upon the respondent. Next, there will be a hearing before a Judge, to determine whether emancipation is in the child’s best interest. During the hearing, the minor child bears the burden of proof and must show evidence that emancipation is in their best interest.
In determining what is in the best interest of the child, courts may consider several factors, including:
- the parental need for the earnings of the petitioner/child,
- the petitioner/child’s ability to function as an adult,
- the petitioner/child’s need to contract as an adult or to marry,
- the employment status of the petitioner/child,
- the extent of family discord which may threaten reconciliation of the petitioner/child with the petitioner’s family,
- the petitioner/child’s rejection of the parental supervision or financial support,
- and the quality of parental supervision or support.
Regardless of where you live, courts do not take the emancipation process lightly. Making the decision to legally recognize a child under the age of 18 as an adult, and thus giving them the legal authority to act as an adult, is made with careful consideration.
Nadia A. Margherio is a family law attorney and Principal with Sodoma Law, based in Charlotte, NC. www.sodomalaw.com