How to Get Legally Emancipated in New York State

By Teo Spengler

Updated July 31, 2018

Father and daughter having conversation at home

Tom Roberton/Photodisc/GettyImages

Leaving the nest is not always the smooth and natural process the phrase suggests. Even though most young adults in their late teens dream of spreading their wings and throwing off parental control, very few are truly prepared for emancipation before the age of 21. Emancipation in New York normally happens at the age of 21. At that point, youth are no longer under the thumb of their parents, and parents no longer have to finance the lives of their children.

But sometimes emancipation can happen earlier if the child meets the emancipated minor requirements. Unlike some states, New York doesn't have an emancipation law, but courts sometimes recognize that a child is emancipated, although still a minor. The primary requirement for emancipation is the ability to support oneself. This financial independence is hard to achieve even after 21 years old, let alone much before that age.

Emancipation in New York

Generally emancipation refers to a court process that allows a minor to move out of the parental home legally and live independently, even though she is underage. But in states like New York, there is no such animal as an emancipation statute or an emancipation process. Still, courts sometimes must consider whether a particular minor is emancipated given the all the circumstances. This can happen either because a minor child wishes to be free of parental constraints and moves out, or because the parents want her to leave.

The age of emancipation in New York is set at 21 years old. Up until the time she turns 21, a child's parents are legally obligated to support her financially. When a child attains this milestone birthday, she no longer has to listen to her parents or do what they say. The parents no longer have to support her financially nor keep her under their roof.

Of course, many parents in New York and elsewhere would assert that kids stop doing what their parents tell them to and stop listening to reason well before the age of 21. Since the state does not have an emancipation statute, a minor cannot bring a petition seeking a court order to be emancipated from her parents. But in some circumstances, courts recognize a minor as free from parental control and financially self-sufficient. However, it is difficult to pull together a general rule from previous cases, since the court determinations have been very fact-specific.

Raising the Issue of Emancipation in New York

How does the issue of emancipation arise in New York? Sometimes it is the minor child who pushes for freedom from the rules that her parents impose. Sometimes a minor child is working long hours, but her parents are taking all or part of the wages she earns. She may want to move out to avoid this result. She may also wish to move out in order to get away from an abusive home.

On the other hand, it can be the parents who raise the issue of emancipation as they struggle unsuccessfully to control the minor. Maybe she leaves home and refuses to return. Or maybe they just don't trust her or feel safe around her. It is also not uncommon for a parent who pays child support to seek a determination that he can stop paying the custodial parent since the child is emancipated. However, a parent cannot assume that the child is emancipated but must keep paying support until he gets a court order on the subject.

How to Get Emancipated in New York?

How do you get legally emancipated from your parents, other than waiting out the time until you turn 21 years old? There is no set procedure in the law in New York to achieve this end. However, if you are a young person aching to get emancipated from your parents, there are some efficient ways to accomplish it. But each has ramifications that may or may not balance out.

In general, a court is likely to recognize that you are emancipated, as a child under 21, if you get married, join one of the branches of the military or complete college. In addition, courts may classify you as emancipated if the following conditions are true:

  • you are at least 16 years old
  • you live apart from your parents
  • you live outside of your parents control
  • you are not in foster care, and
  • you support yourself with your own earnings.

Can a child be emancipated in New York State? It is possible, but not as easy as in jurisdictions with emancipation statutes. But if your desire is truly to get out from the control of your parents and you can support yourself, you may be able to persuade a court that you are emancipated.

Getting a Child Declared Emancipated

In New York, parents must support a child financially, providing room, board, clothing and education, until the child turns 21 years old or becomes emancipated. Obviously, if the child, though still a minor, marries, joins the military or moves out of the house and gets a full time job, the parents can make an argument that she is emancipated.

This question often arises in the context of child support. If the parents divorce and one parent pays the other child support, it usually ceases when the child turns 21 or when she is emancipated, whichever comes first. The noncustodial parent paying child support may raise the argument that the child is emancipated in order to stop paying child support. But he can't just make the decision himself. He has to ask a court for a ruling on whether the child is emancipated. A few factors seem to be important in getting that kind of a court ruling.

If the minor child moves out of the parental home in order to avoid their control, the court may find emancipation. If she gets a new permanent residence – boarding school, camp or college don't count – it may be sufficient. But the court cases in New York suggest that there are strict standards of abandonment that must be applied. It would not be emancipation, for example, if the minor rented a place for the summer with friends, or if she moved off campus when going to college. And it could never be emancipation if minor is 15 years old or less since she is too young to be able to work.

In a New York divorce case called Conley v. Conley, a father wanted to end child support payments to the mother after the minor child was arrested and sent to a residential facility for juvenile delinquents. The father argued that the daughter no longer lived in her mother's house, so he shouldn't have to pay the mother. However, the court refused to let him off the hook. It said that the mother still was charged with fulfilling a parental role even though she had temporarily lost custody to the facility.

The Conley case pointed to the fact that the minor spent some weekends at his mother's home, and she drive him back and forth from the residential facility. Since the minor child had not opted to leave the mother's house to avoid parental control, and the goal of the court was to have the child return to live in the home, the situation could not be called emancipation.

Fault of Parents Precludes Emancipation

The fact that a child leaves home and refuses to return is one factor suggesting emancipation. However, if the court finds that the child leaving home was the parents' fault, it probably won't relieve them of their support obligation.

For example, in one case in New York trial court, a child, described as a "model child," had a serious argument with her mother. She left the house and refused to return. The parents wanted her declared emancipated, but the court refused. It found that the mother was an alcoholic and the father never spent any time with the child. The girl's brother was violent with her and was soon returning home after spending time in jail.

The court found that the girl had not run away to avoid parental control, but because she was afraid of her brother, and rightly so. It also found that she was not getting any emotional support at home. Because her leaving was the parents' fault, the court ruled that their obligation to provide financial support continued.

The critical questions a court asks include whether a move-out by a minor is to avoid parental control or to escape an insupportable living situation. Even if a minor moves out to live with a boyfriend, a New York court is likely to look at her underlying motives, not the external ones.

A Minor's Full-Time Employment

In New York, a court might find a child to be emancipated if, at 16 years or older, she gets a full time job. However, if the job is during summer or winter vacations from school, it does not represent a true method enabling the minor to be self-supporting.

Where a minor actually works full time or even 30 hours a week on a regular basis, the courts may find her to be emancipated. If she pays her own living expenses and contributes to the rent and expenses of the home of the parent she lives with, she will very likely be found to be emancipated. However, the opposite result is more likely if she is attending college. Courts do not like to cut a minor who is a student off from parental support.

Emancipation Is Not Permanent

In New York State, neither parents nor minor children should think of a court's recognition of emancipation as a permanent change of status. Since the biggest issue in emancipation in New York is almost always financial support, the courts do not like to preclude the need for it while a child is under 21 years old.

What does that mean? It means that, in New York, a court may find a child emancipated today, but in need of parental support at some point in the future before she turns 21 years old. For example, joining the military is one way a minor can be emancipated. But if she joins the Army at 18 years old, then is discharged at 19 years old, a court might easily find that the parental support obligation kicks back in.

Likewise, if a minor child gets married at the age of 18, she may be emancipated in the view of the court. But if the marriage falls apart and she needs help financially, she is no longer emancipated and her parents' obligation to provide their daughter with a home, food, clothing and medical care might reappear. And to another example, a child who the courts deem emancipated because she refuses to follow reasonable rules and requests from her parents may change her behavior. If she later acts appropriately, the courts are likely to find her unemancipated.

So, New York courts seldom consider emancipation of a minor from her parents to be a permanent determination. A child may be deemed emancipated in one circumstance, but a change to those circumstances can result in her being considered unemancipated again.