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How Does Emancipation of a Minor Impact Child Support?

Blocks stacked showing child custody with pacifier and gavel. concept of emancipation of minor

The emancipation of a minor may end a parent’s child support obligations, but this is not always the case. For example, if a single court order applies to the support of multiple children, the emancipation of one child might not automatically mean the noncustodial parent pays less. The paying parent should seek advice from a lawyer, and may need to petition the court to modify the order to a lower amount.

Blocks stacked showing child custody with pacifier and gavel. concept of emancipation of minor

What Is Emancipation of a Minor?

At age 18, the age of adulthood and the age of majority, minors in most states become automatically emancipated. These new adults gain most of the same rights as older adults. For instance, they can choose for themselves where to live, if they want to go to college, and if they want to join the workforce.

The emancipation of a minor can occur before the age of 18, but it is relatively rare. Minors must demonstrate to the court that they are reasonably mature and have a special need, such as educational or housing barriers.

Minors cannot be emancipated against their wishes, and the court can order parents to continue to support an emancipated minor. Thus, the lifespan of child support in Illinois does not change in all cases of emancipation.

What Is Emancipation?

Emancipation can be partial or complete. In cases of partial emancipation, the emancipation may be narrow. Parents may still have some or many duties or rights concerning their children.

In full emancipation, the mature minor can decide where to live, work, and attend school. These minors can make medical decisions and control their income. Many emancipated minors do lose the right to receive financial support from their parents, but this is not always the case with partial emancipation. A completely emancipated teenager could do these things:

  • Get medical care without his or her parents’ OK and pay the bills
  • Choose his or her own place to live and pay the bills
  • Get a marriage license without parents’ permission
  • Sign contracts and be obligated to honor them
  • Enroll in the school of his or her choice

Emancipated children generally must still follow age guidelines, though. For example, a 16-year-old could not vote where 18 is the minimum age, and a 15-year-old emancipated minor in a state where emancipation is allowable at that age would not be able to get a driver’s license. Age limits about dropping out of school typically apply to emancipated minors, too.

Why Emancipate?

Teens may decide to pursue emancipation if they are living apart from their parents and largely supporting themselves anyway, want to get married, desire to join the military, want to keep their income, or hope to escape an abusive situation, among other reasons.

Some of the most well-known legal emancipation cases have to do with child actors. The emancipation was amicable in some situations, for example, if the actor wanted to work longer hours but could not as a minor child (child labor laws would apply otherwise). In other situations, the parting was not amicable and related to the parents keeping all or too much of their children’s income for themselves and possibly mismanaging it.

In some states, emancipation may occur automatically if a child joins the military. Parental consent is typically needed for children under 18, and minors who are 17 can enlist in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force.

What Qualifies for Emancipation in Illinois

Emancipation occurs automatically at age 18. However, in Illinois, marriage or enlistment in the armed forces does not automatically mean emancipation.

Emancipation of a minor in the state can apply only to mature minors who are between 16 and 18 years old. In other words, someone who is 15 does not yet qualify for legal emancipation.

Emancipated minors must be capable of managing their own affairs and should be living partially or completely independently of their parents or caregivers. Judges do not easily grant emancipation orders. Minors must meet strict criteria to qualify.

Legal emancipation also does not occur simply because a minor runs away from home constantly, has a baby, drops out of school, or gets public assistance. Minors in Illinois must have someone else file a court case on their behalf. They must show a judge they are mature minors.

Emancipation is more likely to be granted if the parents do not contest it, the minor has plans for where to live and get financial support, and has people such as employers and teachers to vouch for his or her maturity. A work history and a financial plan can help minors make their case, too.

Emancipated minors may qualify for public aid in some cases, but hoping to get it cannot be the reason for emancipation. If minors become emancipated and later realize they need aid, they should apply for it as an adult.

Reasons to Modify a Child Support Order

The emancipation of a minor can occur automatically when a child turns 18 or beforehand as part of a court process. Some parents think that their child support obligations end when their children turn 18 with no exceptions. This is not necessarily the case. A child support lawyer is a good person to advise you on the particulars of your situation.

Child support often continues when a child turns 18 if the child is still in high school. In these cases, the original court order may require the noncustodial parent to pay until the child graduates from high school or turns 19.

Similarly, the parent could be required to keep paying if the child attends a trade school or college, or has a disability. The parent could also be under a mandate to keep paying if one court order applies to multiple children.

Parents can modify child support in Illinois in many cases with the court’s approval. There are reasons besides emancipation to modify a child support order, of course. They include the following:

  • One parent’s (or both parents’) income has significantly increased or decreased
  • The child has different needs now due to disability or other circumstances
  • The child’s basic needs have changed (no longer attends daycare, for example)

It is possible for child support to be modified retroactively. For instance, this could occur if the obligor (paying) parent did not notify the recipient parent of a big pay raise at work or the sale of significant assets. Interest penalties might apply, too.

What About Child Support Agreements Done Out of Court?

Many parents agree on child support and other financial support issues between themselves. In other words, they disregard an official court order (if one applies). Such “side agreements” are quite risky. If one parent decides to change things up and enforce the court order, the decision could put the other parent in hot water. Sudden life changes could have a similar effect, too.

Out-of-court agreements typically have little legal standing in Illinois. If you want to change your agreement, it is best to cover your bases and obtain official court recognition. No matter what, keep accurate records showing how much you paid (or received) for child support, and when and how the money was used to take care of the child’s needs.

Can Emancipation Status Be Revoked?

Minors could lose their emancipation status if their maturity comes into question. For example, if they are convicted of a crime or cannot meet baseline financial needs, a judge could revoke their emancipation.

This happens only in extreme cases, but it often results in the parents regaining custody. A parent’s child support obligations could pick up again.

Similarly, if an emancipated minor gets married and then divorced, and is still younger than 18, the person might no longer be emancipated.

Is Emancipation of a Minor a Good Idea?

In most cases, minors do not need or want to get emancipated, nor do their parents want them to. Emancipation is not easy to get because even children who are mature for their age may find it difficult to fend for themselves and may not have thought through their decision fully. Judges need to see evidence of maturity, special need, and financial planning.

Getting emancipated can be a good idea in some situations, though. A few children become wealthy independently of their parents, but the parents might mismanage their money or wreck their financial affairs. Child actors may also pursue emancipation to get around certain child labor laws, too.

In cases of abuse or neglect, emancipation sometimes makes more sense than foster or group home placements. It’s even possible for a minor to become emancipated from the Department of Children and Family Services, but minors cannot return to state-funded care unless the emancipation order is terminated.

If a child runs away from home a lot to escape an abusive situation, emancipation may not necessarily be granted, depending on the housing situation. The child should find stable housing (either on his or her own or with family or friends) to increase the chances of getting approval for emancipation.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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