This section is about how you can gain some adult rights and responsibilities if you are under 18.
This part of the guide explains
• what changes if you are emancipated,
• what does not change if you are emancipated,
• how to decide whether emancipation is right for you, and
• how to get emancipated.
What is emancipation?
Emancipation is a way for those under 18 to gain some of the rights and responsibilities of adults.
Can any child ask to be emancipated?
You must be at least 14 years old.
Is it easy to get emancipated?
No. You must follow certain steps, including asking the court for a Declaration of Emancipation.
What doesn’t change if I am emancipated?
Even if you are emancipated, you still have to follow many laws for children under 18.
Until you reach the legal age, you
- cannot drink alcohol,
- cannot smoke or buy cigarettes,
- cannot drop out of school,
- cannot vote,
- cannot drive, and
- cannot work more hours than allowed for your age.*
*To find out how many hours you are allowed to work, see Working in this guide.
What if I get in trouble with the law?
If you commit a crime, you may still be charged as a juvenile (under 18).
Important! Even if you are emancipated, it is still a crime for anyone to have sex with you unless you are married to that person.
What would change if I get emancipated?
If you are emancipated, you gain many adult rights. That means you can do some things on your own without your parent’s permission, such as
- get health care,
- apply for a work permit and public benefits,
- get a driver’s license or ID showing you are emancipated,
- sign up for school or college,
- sign contracts (such as for renting an apartment or buying a car),
- live where you want to, and
- make more decisions about your life, including how to handle your own money (you do not have to give any money to your parents, if you do not want to).
It also means your parents
- do not have custody or control over you, and
- do not have to support you or give you a place to live anymore.
Ana knows a girl who got emancipated. Is that a good idea?
Maybe. If she wants more control over her life and can support herself on her own, it can be good. But she will also be fully responsible for her bills, car accidents, and other parts of adult life.
Will I lose anything if I get emancipated?
Yes. It’s important to think about these things:
- Once you are a legal adult, Child Protective Services (CPS) may be less willing to step in if you are being abused.
- Supporting yourself may be harder than you think, and your parents no longer have to help you.
- The law will treat you like an adult. This includes making you responsible for your rent payments, bills, car accidents, and all other parts of your life.
- If you make mistakes, you must fix them. If you do not pay money you owe, you can be taken to court and your credit rating will go down. If that happens, it will be very hard for you to rent another apartment or buy things on credit.
Make sure that emancipation will solve the problem you have. Many teens find it harder than they expected.
Do I have to get emancipated to get public assistance?
No. You can still do many things on your own, even if you are not a legal adult, including
- apply for aid, such as WIC, food stamps, and other benefits, and
- get many health care services.
To learn more about which health care services you can get, see Health Care for Baby and You.
If I am already on my own, is emancipation right for me?
Emancipation may be a good choice if you are already
- supporting yourself,
- living on your own, and
- working at a stable job.
Am I automatically emancipated if I have a child?
No. If you are under 18, the law says you are still a child.
How do I get emancipated?
There are 3 ways to get emancipated.
- Get married. You need permission from your parents and the court.
- Join the military and serve on active duty. You need permission from your parents, and you must be accepted by the military.
- Have a court declare you emancipated. To do that, you must prove ALL of these things:
• you are at least 14 years old,
• you do not live with your parents,
• your parents are letting you live somewhere else,
• you handle your own money,
• you have a legal way to make money (or are receiving aid to support yourself and the child), and
• emancipation would be good for you.
If I ask the court to declare me emancipated, will my parents find out?
Yes. The court will
- tell them you have asked to be emancipated, and
- give them a chance to give their opinion.
Important! Even if your parents do not agree to your emancipation, if they agreed to let you live apart from them, the court can allow emancipation if it would be best for you.
How do I ask a court to emancipate me?
You must fill out court forms, including
- a petition,
- an income declaration,
- a hearing notice, and
- a Declaration of Emancipation.
Can someone else ask the court to emancipate me?
No. Only you can ask the court for emancipation.
Where do I get the court forms?
You can get the forms at
- your local courthouse, or
- online at www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm (you can print the forms, or fill them out online at this website).
Will I need help to fill out the court forms?
Maybe. The forms are fairly easy. But you can ask for help if you want to.
Where can I get help?
For free help, call one of these organizations. They can answer your questions and help you fill out the forms. If they cannot help you, they will tell you who can.
- Legal Services for Children: 1-415-863-3762 (San Francisco)
- Public Counsel: 1-213-385-2977, ext. 100 (Los Angeles)
- Santa Barbara Teen Legal Clinic: 1-805-962-3344 (Santa Barbara)
- Legal Advocates for Children & Youth: 1-408-280-2416 (Santa Clara County)
This website has lists of organizations that help teens for free: www.lawhelpcalifornia.org.
To learn more about emancipation and get emancipation forms, go to www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm.
What do I do with the completed forms?
Call the court clerk’s office in your county. Ask them where to turn in your forms, and whether you have to fill out any extra forms for that county.
Let them know if you are in foster care or involved in a juvenile criminal case.
Find the phone number, address, and website of your county’s court at www.courts.ca.gov.
What happens after I file my court papers?
The court should notify the following people and agencies about your request:
- the district attorney,
- the child-support agency, and
- your parents or guardian.
If your parents agree to your emancipation, they will also get a court form to fill out.
How will the court decide?
In some counties, the court orders an investigation before deciding. If your county does that, someone will contact you. The investigator may talk to other people, too, including your parents. The investigator will write a report about your situation and give it to the court.
How long does the court take to decide?
The court has 30 days after your papers are filed to
- decide your case, or
- schedule a hearing where you and others in your life would come to court to talk to the judge.
Note: If your parents agree to your emancipation, the judge may approve your emancipation without a hearing.
You may feel nervous about going to court.
To learn about how to get ready, see Going to Court.
How long would I wait for a hearing?
The court must give you a hearing within 60 days after your papers are filed.
Can anyone change the court’s decision?
If the judge does not approve your emancipation, you can fight that decision in another court. (This is called an appeal.) Appeals are not easy, and there are very strict deadlines. You should ask one of the legal agencies listed above for help.
If the judge approves your emancipation, your parents can also fight (appeal) that decision in another court.
Do I have to pay to be emancipated?
Some counties ask you to pay a filing fee. Some do not. Most filing fees are between $300 and $350.
If your county charges a fee and you cannot afford to pay, you can ask the court for permission not to pay. (This is called a Fee Waiver.)
If I am emancipated, can I undo it later?
Probably not. You can ask the court to reverse (undo) its decision, but emancipation is usually permanent.
The court might take away your emancipation if
- you lied to the judge or gave evidence about your case that was not true, or
- the district attorney asks the court to undo the emancipation because you can no longer support yourself.
You should assume that emancipation is permanent and think about it fully before you decide to try for it.
If I get divorced, am I still emancipated?
Yes, if you were emancipated by getting married.