The Illusion of Emancipation: Facts and Realities under Maryland Law
“Hi.” (whispering tone, school hallway noise in the background) “I want to be emancipated from my parents. Can you help me?”
Our first thought, often by hurried cell phone call – a short discussion about legal fees and an adult necessary to sign our mandatory legal services contract policy – normally puts an end to any further discussion.
However, our practice does regularly address the question of emancipation asked us by parents: Can the parent be legally free of their minor child who is out of control and deliberately refusing to obey the law, if not just their parental home rules?
As a parent, when your minor child is out of control, is emancipation the answer?
Emancipation is the cessation of a parent’s right to the care, custody, control, services, and earnings of a child as well as the parental duty to support the child. While emancipation is defined by statute or case law, when emancipation actually happens depends on the facts of each case.
How can a minor be emancipated?
In Maryland the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over emancipation cases. A minor who wishes to be emancipated or the parent of the minor who wishes emancipation can file a petition for emancipation in the Circuit Court for the county in which they reside. In Maryland, a minor generally does not have the right to start a court action by him/herself to be emancipated, but must instead have an adult file on his/her behalf. The reason is simple: Parents alone (not children) have the right and responsibility of their children, so it is only the parents – not the child – who by their acts can relinquish their rights as parents.
When will the Court declare a minor emancipated?
Unlike most states, Maryland does not have a statute that explicitly defines emancipation; instead Maryland relies on case law. A child may be eligible to be emancipated under Maryland Law when they turn 18, enter into military service, get married, or when the parent(s) voluntarily give up their parental rights, or as in our firm’s case mentioned above, the parent(s) mistreat or abandon the child . In all cases, the child should be able to provide for her or his own needs and not rely on the State. In any of the cases where emancipation is raised, it is never presumed that the child should be emancipated. Rather the burden to prove that the child is eligible for emancipation is on the person or State requesting emancipation.
In our client’s situation, the solution was not to have her child emancipated. Clearly her child was unable to be self-supporting. In such a situation, the State would be the custodian of the abandoned child. Even if the State wanted the child to be emancipated, the State would have the burden to prove that the child was able to be responsible for him/herself financially and legally.
Though removal of the mother’s legal responsibility may have been one way to get services for her child and concurrently, protect her other young children from the harm caused by her eldest child, giving up her child would have resulted in our client being legally charged with neglect and abuse because her child was not self-supporting or independent enough to be emancipated.
In the end, with representation at several hearings in which our client was charged with neglect, we were able to help our client’s child and our client receive much-needed wraparound services from Maryland Choices program and in-patient drug treatment for her child, and neglect charges were dropped against our client.
Now, if Miley Cyrus moves to Maryland and gives us a call, we’ll be ready to help!
Written by Patrick J. Hoover; assisted by Albert Asphall, law student at Howard University and intern at Patrick Hoover Law Offices during summer 2009.
Emancipation, 17 M.L.E. Parent and Child § 3 (2008).
Alice M. Wright, What Voluntary Acts of Child Other than Marriage or Entry into the Military Service Terminate Parent’s Obligation to Support, 55 A.L.R. 5TH 557 (1998).
Holly v. Maryland Ins. Fund, 349 A.2d 670 at 675 (Md. App. 1975)
“Whether or not a minor child has been emancipated depends upon the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case, and is, therefore, generally a question for the jury. Emancipation of a minor child is never presumed, and the burden of proof is upon him who alleges it.” Holly, 349 A.2d 670 at 675.