Until a person is 18 years of age, the legal age of majority in Virginia, their parents or guardians have the right to both custody and control. They have legal responsibility to provide the child with shelter, food, clothing, medical care, supervision, and education, and are legally responsible if the child breaks the law. Once a child reaches the age of majority, however, the parents’ legal responsibility ends.
There are, however, some circumstances under which a child or even parent/guardian may seek to have a child declared “emancipated” even though the child has not yet turned 18 years of age, so long as the child or the parent/guardian is able to convince the court that emancipation prior to age 18 serves the best interests of the minor child.
How does the Emancipation Process Work in Virginia?
In Virginia, a minor child of 16 years of age can petition the court to become emancipated. The parents or custodians are thereby made respondents and given notice of the petition. In addition, a parent or guardian of a minor child may also ask the court for emancipation.
A petition for emancipation must be initiated by a legal filing with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court for the county of city in which either the minor or his/her parents or guardian resides. It should contain the minor’s gender, and if the petitioner is not the minor, the name of the petitioner and his or her relationships to the minor.
The court will appoint a guardian ad litem to the child, as a matter of law, which is a licensed attorney trained and approved by the court to serve as a legal representative to a minor child. Depending on the circumstances, the court may also appoint an attorney for the parents or guardian.
The court may require that the local Department of Welfare or Social Services, or another agency, investigate any allegations within the petition, and report back to the court. A hearing will then be held with all parties present.
Necessary Findings for Child Emancipation
Emancipation may be declared following the hearing if: (1) the minor has entered into a valid marriage (whether or not it has been dissolved since); (2) the minor is on active duty in the U.S. armed service; or (3) the minor willingly lives separately and apart from his/her parents or guardian, with the consent of the parents or guardian, and is capable of supporting himself/herself and completely managing his/her own financial affairs.
Results of Emancipation
There are a number of significant legal ramifications if emancipation is granted, including:
• The child may thereafter enter into a binding contract
• The child may thereafter establish his/her own residence
• The child may thereafter purchase and/or sell real estate
• The child may enroll in a school or college of his/her choice
• The child may marry without parental, judicial or other consent
The parents of an emancipated minor will no longer be considered the legal guardians of the child, nor have any obligations regarding school attendance or support obligations.
Contact your Family Law Attorney
The issue of child emancipation is complicated, and there are many steps and repercussions that should be discussed with your family law attorney. This post just briefly touches on some of the aspects of the process.
To learn more about child emancipation in Virginia, please contact lawyers Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. We can help explain how the process works, and whether it works for you and your family. Call our office today.