I can’t believe it has been twenty-five years since I first saw the movie “Home Alone.” I remember I didn’t particularly like the movie, as I found it hard to believe that an eight year old boy could be smarter and more resourceful than most, if not all, of the adults around him. Additionally, it disturbed me that a little child would be left all alone to care for himself and make decisions surrounding his well-being, without any adult supervision. From a very simplistic perspective, during the time “Kevin” was left home alone, he became an “emancipated minor.”
What is an “emancipated minor?” Generally speaking, emancipation refers to an action whereby a child under the age of eighteen, for specific and limited purposes, petitions the court to be viewed as an adult. This action is not an easy goal to reach for most minors, as the minor must establish to the judge that he or she is a “self-supporting individual independent of parental control.”[i] If a minor still requires or needs care, guidance, or financial support from his or her parents, then the minor cannot be declared emancipated.
In Pennsylvania, emancipation actions are not guided by statute or law, but by previous case law. Consistently, judges have upheld emancipation petitions if the minor can demonstrate that he or she is currently (1) living separate and apart from his or her parents, (2) is able to financially support his or herself through appropriate employment, and (3) is able to make smart, mature and responsible decisions about his or her own care and well-being. If the minor can demonstrate they have met all of the above factors, and not just that he or she aspires to reach them at some point in the future, then he or she will most probably be declared an “emancipated minor.” This status need not be a permanent one; however, for whenever an emancipated minor, who remains under the age of eighteen, demonstrates his or her inability to financially support him or herself, the emancipated status will cease.
Just because a minor is granted “emancipated” status by a court, the minor will still be subject to statutory age limitations, such as the restriction on voting, purchasing alcohol, driving privileges, etc. Emancipation status does grant minors the right to sign legal and binding contracts (for example apartment leases and employment contracts), make independent medical decisions for him or herself, and accept sole responsibility for his or her own financial needs. However, the issuing of emancipation orders are very rare, and are only granted upon a showing that it would be in the best interest of the minor to do so.
[i] Nicholason v. Follweiler, 735 A. 2d 1275, 1278 (Pa. Super. 1998).
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.