How to Become a Legal Adult

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At some point, most teenagers wish they could just snap their fingers and find themselves free of their parents’ supervision. But the law doesn’t make it that easy. You must become legally emancipated first, which means that you’re no longer subject to your parents’ control and you have some of the same rights as adults. This can happen in a few ways.

Age of Emancipation

  • In most states, you automatically become a legal adult on your 18th birthday. This is called the age of emancipation or the age of majority. In some jurisdictions, you must be older -- 19 in Alabama, Indiana, Nebraska and Colorado, and 21 in Mississippi, New York and the District of Columbia before your parents are not required to support you. But these laws presume that nothing occurs before you reach these birthdays that might cause you to become emancipated in some other way.

Emancipating Events

  • In many states, you become a legal adult if you marry when you are younger than the legal age of majority. Another exception to the age rule is if you enlist in the U.S. armed forces. In some states, you can be emancipated to make your own healthcare decisions if your parents deny you necessary medical care, but this may require permission from the court.

Emancipation by Court Order

  • You can file a court petition in many states, asking the judge to issue an order emancipating you from your parents. But strict rules usually apply. You must have a job or some other independent means of support -- the court isn’t going to emancipate you if it means you’re going to go on public assistance. Some states require you to file a signed affidavit from one or more adults -- not your parents -- stating that you meet these requirements. You must give a good reason why you want to be legally emancipated, such as your parents are deceased, have abandoned you, or are incapable of supporting you or of raising you because of mental health issues. Just being tired of your parents’ rules doesn’t qualify. But your reasons don't necessarily have to be dire. It may just be that you’ve been living on your own and supporting yourself for a while and you want the legal rights that go along with that. You must reach a certain age before you can file a petition for emancipation, usually 16, but it can be as young as 14 in some states. An emancipation order can be revoked by the judge if your circumstances change, such as because you lose your job. The judge can order that you’re once again under your parents’ supervision.

Rights of Emancipation

  • If the court grants you status as a legal adult, this doesn’t mean you can go celebrate at your local bar and order a drink. Legal adulthood doesn’t supersede other laws, such as the legal drinking age or the age at which you’re entitled to vote. It just means that you can enter into contracts and initiate lawsuits on your own behalf, as well as consent to your own medical care. Some states grant emancipation only for certain circumstances, spelling out in the order specific rights until you reach the age of majority.

References

  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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