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What is Juvenile Emancipation?

A final decree of emancipation by the Court has the following legal effects:

  1. The minor now has the right to make legally-binding contracts, property transfers and business transactions, and to sue and be sued, as if they are 18, i.e. a legal adult.

  2. The parent, custodian or guardian is relieved of all of the legal duties and obligations they owed the minor, such as child support. They also lose any legal rights over the minor, such as the right to dictate their health care and which school they attend.

  3. The judicial decree is considered final, although any party to the proceeding can appeal the final decree if they give notice in open court at the hearing or in writing within 10 days after the Court enters the order.

An Emancipation is NOT…

Emancipation is not the same a termination of parental rights. The parents are legally still the child’s parents; the child is just treated as an adult under the eyes of the law. Unlike in termination of parental rights, an emancipated minor is still considered the parents’ child for matters of inheritance. North Carolina’s emancipation laws also make it so that an emancipated minor is not exempt from prosecution for the misdemeanor criminal charge of failing to support his or her parents under N.C.G.S. 14-326.1.

Emancipation also does not make the minor exempt from laws that impose age-based conditions. For example, an emancipated juvenile still cannot purchase tobacco or alcohol.

Requirements for Emancipation

In order to qualify to petition the Court for emancipation, a minor must meet the following qualifications:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have lived in the same county in North Carolina, or on federal land within the state, for at least six (6) months prior to filing for emancipation in that county
The Emancipation Petition

In asking the Court to grant emancipation, the minor (the petitioner) must submit a signed and verified petition that contains the following information:

  • The minor’s full name, birth date and county and state of birth
  • A certified copy of the minor’s birth certificate
  • The name and last known address of the minor’s parent, custodian or guardian
  • The minor’s address and how long they have lived there
  • The minor’s reasons for requesting emancipation, and
  • The minor’s plan for meeting his or her own needs and living expenses. This can include a verified statement by the minor’s employer that includes their pay rate.

When the minor files the petition, they will also fill out a summons to be served upon the parent, custodian or guardian informing them of the action filed as well as the time and place of the emancipation hearing to follow. The supervisory adult has 30 days to file a written answer with the court.

The Emancipation Hearing

At the hearing, the judge will allow parties from each side to present evidence and cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. The burden is on the minor to prove to the judge that it is more likely than not that emancipation will be in his or her, the minor’s, best interests. If the judge thinks there is reasonable cause to do so, they can order that the minor be examined by a medical expert to evaluate the minor’s mental or physical condition. If there are allegations by the minor petitioner or guardian respondents which the Court wishes to substantiate, the judge can continue the hearing and order a juvenile court counselor or county department of social services to investigate.

“Best Interests of the Child”

In all proceedings involving minor children in North Carolina such as child custody, courts use a “best interests of the child,” standard. In emancipation cases, a court will take into account the following considerations in determining what is in the minor’s “best interests”:

  1. The minor’s ability to function as an adult
  2. The minor’s need to marry or otherwise contract as an adult
  3. The minor’s employment status and stability of their living arrangements
  4. The extent of family discord that could threaten the minor reconciling with their family
  5. The minor’s rejection of parental support or supervision
  6. The quality of parental support or supervision
  7. The minor’s parents’ need for the minor’s earnings
The Court’s Requirements for an Emancipation Order

After the hearing, the Court can enter a decree of emancipation if it determines that the following conditions are present:

  1. All parties are either present before the court or failed to appear after being served and allowing the 30-day response deadline to pass;
  2. The minor has shown a feasible and legal plan for adequately providing for their own needs and living expenses;
  3. The minor is knowingly seeking emancipation and fully understands the ramifications of his or her petition; and
  4. Emancipation is in the best interests of the minor.

If you or someone in your family is considering emancipation, it is important to speak with a skilled family law attorney. If the opposing side is actively against yours, it can be critical to have an experienced local attorney helping prove what is or is not in the minor’s best interests. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is an aggressive civil and criminal litigation firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, and our family law attorneys stand at the ready to help on a wide variety of family law matters from separation and divorce to child custody and support, adoption and emancipation. Contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys to ensure that your case is properly filed and argued to the Court to the fullest extent possible.