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The Legal Implications of Child Emancipation


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Sometimes, a person is considered to be remarkably wise and capable for their age. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for a particular youth to possess a level of maturity, intellect, and capabilities greater than those of an average adult. However, Texas law presumes that all persons under 18 years old are minor children and that their parents or guardians should make decisions on their behalf. Children can only become legally responsible for their own well-being when they are emancipated.

In general, parents are legally responsible for taking care of their minor children and have the authority to make legal decisions on their behalf. As a corollary, the law doesn’t hold children civilly liable for their actions, reasoning that they have not attained a certain level of intelligence and judgment to justify sanctioning them for their conduct.

As a result of this shift in legal responsibility from child to parent, many rights of minor children are legally restricted when it comes to performing certain actions. In most states, a minor child’s legal rights are restricted until they reach the age of 18—the age where a person is legally considered to be an adult.

The restrictions on a minor child’s legal capacity are technically referred to as legal disabilities. The procedure for removing the legal disabilities the law generally imposes on all minors is called emancipation.

What Is Child Emancipation?

Emancipation of a minor is the legal process by which a child (minor) is given the freedom and legal rights to make their own life decisions. This happens automatically once the reach the age of majority in their state — generally age 18 — or by going through the legal process of becoming an emancipated minor.

Requirements & Purposes of Emancipation

Emancipation procedures are limited to only qualified minors. This helps ensure that the minor is indeed capable of accepting the responsibilities of adulthood.

Under Texas Family Code § 31.001(a), a child may file for emancipation if the following criteria are met:

  • The minor can manage their own financial affairs and is self-supporting; and
  • The minor is at least 17 years old; or
  • The minor is at least 16 years old and lives apart from his or her parents or legal guardian.

A petition for emancipation requires verification from one of the minor’s parents or whoever has been appointed as the legal guardian or conservator of the minor. If that person cannot be located the Court may appoint an attorney to assist in verifying the petition.

A minor child may be emancipated for general or limited purposes. Generally, a minor orphaned child who has been taking care of younger sibling may want to file for emancipation to serve as a legal guardian for their sibling. Alternatively, a minor child might want to file for emancipation to secure employment or to conduct a business transaction to take care of their family. Also, a minor may wish to be emancipated for the limited purpose of executing a specific medical directive, acknowledgment of consent, or other legal instruments.

What Legal Disabilities Does Emancipation Remove?

An emancipated minor is free to exercise the rights that other responsible adults enjoy; however, responsibility is a two-way street in this context as the emancipated minor must also accept legal liability for the consequences of their actions.

Upon the issuance of an emancipation order, the legal disabilities of a minor no longer apply, including those involving:

  • Capacity to contract: Minors generally lack the capacity to enter into contracts. Contracts with minors are considered voidable at the minor’s choice. However, an emancipated child can form a binding contract and will be held responsible for performing or breaching their contractual obligations.
  • Capacity to sue or be sued: Minors cannot file a lawsuit on their own behalf, or to serve as the defendant in a lawsuit. However, emancipated children enjoy the right to sue for their rights while likewise being vulnerable to lawsuits.
  • Capacity to marry: Minors are legally barred from getting married unless a court issued an emancipation order for general purposes. An emancipated child may enter into a valid marriage.
  • Capacity to consent to medical treatment: Minors also do not have the capacity to consent to medical or surgical procedures on their own behalf, except for rare exceptions in limited circumstances. However, an emancipated child may consent to medical treatment.

Need Legal Advice from a Qualified Attorney? Call Coker, Robb & Cannon

Since 1998, the legal team at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers has been committed to delivering quality legal counsel and advocacy to families throughout Texas. Our clients can expect us to offer meaningful legal solutions that address the specific needs and circumstances of their cases, from establishing paternity rights to effecting the emancipation of a minor child. We have offices conveniently located throughout the state, including Denton County & Collin County.

Schedule an appointment with one of our dedicated attorneys. Call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers at (940) 293-2313 or contact us onlinetoday!

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