When can your child declare s/he is self-sufficient and can move out?

Emanicipation, or freedom, is a two way street, in that it is a legal mechanism that frees a minor child from the control of his or her parents, but also frees the parents or guardians from all or nearly all responsibility of the child.

When children reach the age of majority in their state (see the list of States below), they become legal adults, which in most cases automatically makes them emancipated. In terms of a child’s education, most States allow that children finish high school before being emancipated. For these States the rule is emancipation at age 18 or when the child finishes high school, whichever occurs later. Other states emancipate children at the completion of high school, or at age 19, whichever comes first.

When children go on to higher learning, many States extend the parental obligation of support beyond the age of majority to cover the two to fours years that a child might be attending college. Each State is different, so be sure to check your State’s rules. If the State says you have to pay until age 21 or 22, you have to pay, or the State will come after you like a pack a rabid dogs.

Emancipation before the child reaches the age of majority

The protocols for attaining emancipation by a minor vary from State to State. In general, the minor must file a petition with the family court that has jurisdiction, requesting emancipation and citing the reasons that it is in their best interest. To be successful, minors must prove self-sufficiency. The reasons for requesting emancipation can be varied, and the court will determine if the request stands on its own merits or is the result of discontent with parents or the minor has been victim of abuse or other reasons that might require intervention rather than emancipation.

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Child support and the adult child

As with so many things legal, this topic is a double-edged sword. If your State law compels you to be financially responsible well past the age of majority due to your child’s attendance in college, it probably benefits the child financially (probably, because the financial support continues to be paid in the form of child support – monies that go directly to the custodial parent, even when the child is living away from home while going to school). The parents that pay child support are placed in a difficult position if they are then expected to pay a portion of the child’s college expenses, effectively double-dipping into the paying parent’s income. As you might imagine, there are cases where the child custody that is paid to a custodial parent while the child is away at school never flows to the child. Stranger things have occurred.

The age of majority is age 18 in all states except the following:

Alabama – age 19 (Title 26, Chapter 1-1)

Indiana – age 21 (Title 7.1, Art. 1, Chap. 3, Sec. 25

Mississippi – age 21 (Title 91, Chapter 20, § 91-20-3(a) and (k) and § 1-3-27)

Nebraska – age 19 (Chapter 43-2101)

Puerto Rico – age 21

For child support purposes, the age of majority is 18 in all states except:
  • Age 19 in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland and Nebraska
  • Age 21 in D.C., Indiana, Mississippi, and New York

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