What can you do if your child threatens to emancipate?

It is normal for families to go through difficult times, but sometimes teenagers are not equipped to cope with domestic hardship. When minors threaten to emancipate, California parents often feel hurt, concerned and unsure what next steps to take.

Whether a contentious divorce, new family member, financial upset or something else has prompted your child to seek independence, rest assured that the emancipation process is not simple, and there are usually many routes for parents to contest it.

When can a child emancipate?

Each state is different, but in California, children generally must have parental consent to emancipate unless they are able to get a court order. Your child cannot emancipate simply because you had a fight or are not getting along.

There are three ways a child can emancipate: get a court order, get married or join the military. To marry or enlist, virtually all minors (even emancipated) will still need parental permission.

To obtain a court order to emancipate, your child must be at least 14 years old, be capable of financial independence and be able to convince a judge that emancipation would be in his or her best interest. State law gives judges a large degree of discretion in making this decision.

What can you do as a parent?

If your child intends to pursue a court order, he or she must give you notice by law before a judge will rule on the case. Your child may start the process and begin filing paperwork before notifying you, but you will have a chance to contest it.

In some counties, all emancipation cases have a hearing, but in others, courts will only hold hearings if you contest.

There are many arguments parents can use to contest an emancipation. Depending on the circumstance, you may attempt to demonstrate that your child does not have a viable way to make a living or that doing so would be detrimental to his or her development. Even emancipated minors must still attend school, so they will have limited options for work.

If a child emancipates, he or she must acquire housing, medical insurance, pay bills and take legal responsibility for his or her actions. Parents may demonstrate that their child is not ready to handle all of these responsibilities alone.

Most judges will be hesitant to grant an order of emancipation without clear and convincing evidence that the situation warrants it, and the burden of proof would be on the minor to prove that it is the best option.