What Are the Emancipation Laws for AL?
Parents are responsible for their children, and children are bound to the orders of their parents. Children are not free to make their own decisions until they reach the age of majority unless they go through a special legal proceeding known as emancipation. Emancipation laws vary by state, and Alabama’s emancipation laws are particularly narrow. Continue reading to learn about Alabama’s emancipation laws, courtesy of our knowledgeable and experienced Alabama family and parental rights attorney.
What is Emancipation?
Children under the age of 18 are legally dependent on their parents. Parents are legally responsible for taking care of their children, including by housing them, feeding them, and paying child support, as appropriate. Parents are also legally responsible for their children’s activities; for example, minors cannot typically enter legally binding contracts, file a lawsuit, or be sued in court, without their parent or guardian being a party to the legal matter or arrangement.
Children, in turn, are under the control of their parents. Parents have the final say on things like where the children live, what medical care they receive (outside of certain exceptions codified by the law), and what school they attend. Once children reach the age of 18 (or 19 in certain states and territories), they are no longer under the care and control of their parents or guardians and can legally make their own decisions.
Under certain circumstances, children under the age of majority wish to free themselves from the care and control of their parents or guardians. Often, these situations arise due to neglect or abuse perpetrated by the parents or guardians. Those children can petition for emancipation. Specific rights vary by state, but in general an emancipated minor can:
- Live apart from their parents/guardians
- Enter into legally binding contracts
- Sue or be sued
- Enroll in the school of their choice
- Apply for work permits and keep their income
- Make their own healthcare decisions, for example, relating to abortion and birth control
Emancipated minors lose out on certain rights, such as future child support (as do their parents). Emancipated minors typically are still unable to engage in activities legally restricted to adults, such as purchase alcohol or tobacco, get married, vote, get a driver’s license (before the age at which they would normally be eligible) or quit school.
Emancipation in Alabama
In Alabama, the age of majority (legal adulthood) is 19. Emancipation is extremely limited in Alabama. Whereas other states allow emancipation as young as 16, in Alabama children can only petition for emancipation starting at age 18. Emancipation is only available in limited circumstances and will always ultimately depend upon the court’s evaluation of the best interests of the minor. If the court decides emancipation is not in the child’s best interests (or that the specific requirements are not met) but that the parents should be stripped of parental rights, the court might, for example, appoint a legal guardian for the minor.
An 18-year-old in Alabama can petition the court to be emancipated (described by the law as relieving minors from the “disabilities of nonage”) under the following circumstances:
- Either the father or mother of the minor petitions the court for the child’s emancipation
- The minor has no living parent or guardian, has only a living parent or guardian that is insane, or has a parent or guardian that has abandoned the minor for at least a year
- The minor has no living parent or has a living parent that is insane or has abandoned the minor for at least a year, and the minor has a guardian who files the petition for emancipation
In all cases, the court must agree that emancipation is in the best interests of the minor. The court may set restrictions on the rights of the minor even after granting emancipation, such as rights pertaining to contract.