Emancipation Laws of Minors in the State of Wisconsin

By Lindsay Kramer

Updated November 11, 2019

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Every state sets and enforces its own laws regarding the emancipation of minors. Emancipation is the legal process through which a minor gains most of the legal rights that are typically restricted to legal adults. The process for becoming emancipated, and the requirements that must be met in order to be emancipated, vary from state to state, with some states enforcing strict regulations and others maintaining a comparatively lax emancipation process.

Age of Majority in Wisconsin

The age of majority in Wisconsin is 18 in most cases. If a minor turns 18 while she is still in high school, she is considered a legal adult upon graduating high school or turning 19, whichever comes first. Eighteen is the age of majority, the age at which an adolescent becomes a legal adult, in most of the United States. Two notable exceptions are Alabama and Delaware, where the age of majority is 19.

Upon reaching the age of majority, an individual gains most of the rights associated with adulthood, such as the right to vote and the right to make her own financial decisions. In most cases, her parents are also relieved of their legal obligation to provide financial and other types of support for her. This is not always the case though.

In some states, like New Jersey, the court may require parents to continue supporting their young adult children while the children pursue higher education after finishing high school, and in most cases that involve young adults with severe physical or mental disabilities, parents must either continue acting as their adult children’s legal guardians or designate new legal guardians for them once they reach the age of majority.

Understanding Emancipation in Wisconsin

Emancipation in Wisconsin is somewhat different from emancipation in many other states because Wisconsin does not have a specific legal process that governs it. Rather, there are certain circumstances under which a minor can take actions typically reserved for emancipated minors. When a minor in Wisconsin files a petition to be emancipated, also known as a divorce from parents, the court considers the case independently, rather than according to a specific statute. Courts in Wisconsin rule on emancipation based on whether they determine emancipation to be in the minor's best interest, as they do in other states.

Minors can be partially or completely emancipated before reaching the age of majority in Wisconsin. This is not the case in all states – in many states, emancipation is a one-size-fits-all legal process. In Wisconsin and a few other states, like Maryland, a minor may be emancipated in some areas of his life, but not in others. For example, the minor may be deemed capable of handling his own financial affairs and thus become emancipated in that regard, but not permitted to transfer high schools without his parents’ consent.

In many states, minors must be emancipated in order to make their own medical decisions, but Wisconsin does not have specific laws regarding when a minor can and cannot make his own medical decisions. One notable exception is in cases where the minor is seeking an abortion: In Wisconsin, pregnant minors seeking abortions usually need parental consent to have the procedure done. However, in cases where the minor is pregnant by a relative, legal guardian, household member or foster parent; became pregnant through an act of sexual assault; is facing a medical emergency; or is likely facing a suicide attempt, parental consent for an abortion is not required.

Events That Automatically Emancipate a Minor

In some cases, a minor is automatically emancipated and does not need to go through the court emancipation process to gain the rights and privileges of adulthood. These events include marriage and enlisting in the U.S. military.

Once a minor is married or becomes an enlisted active duty soldier, she is considered emancipated, and her parents are no longer obligated to support her in any way. However, the minor still needs parental consent to complete these automatically emancipating processes. In Wisconsin, an adolescent may marry as young as 16, but must have parental permission to do so until she turns 18. In every state, a minor as young as 17 may enlist in the United States military, but needs parental consent to do so if she is under 18.

Becoming pregnant, fathering a child or giving birth are not events that automatically emancipate minors. Teenage parents remain under their own parents’ care, but also have complete parental rights to their children. In other words, a teenage mother, not her mother, has the right to make medical decisions for her child.

Pursuing Emancipation in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, a minor may request a partial or a total emancipation from the court. In his request, he must clearly demonstrate that being emancipated is in his best interest. This could be because he is facing abuse at the hands of his parents, because he has academic or career aspirations that can be aided by his transferring to another school, because he needs to manage his own finances or for any other reason the court may deem appropriate. A minor must file his emancipation request with the county-level children’s court in the county where he resides.

Evidence that the minor may use to demonstrate that emancipation is in his best interest includes:

  • Testimony from a mental health professional who can attest to the trauma the minor faced from an abusive home life.
  • Documentation showing the minor’s significant financial assets.
  • Copies of the minor’s medical records.
  • Documentation showing the minor’s legal situation and the need to take control of it.
  • Documentation showing that the minor has been living on his own, separate from his parents.
  • Documentation showing that the minor has been successfully managing his own finances and personal affairs.

If the court grants the minor’s emancipation request, his parents may be relieved of all their duties toward him. However, this is not always the case. The court may rule that it is in the child’s best interest to continue receiving financial support from his parents or that he should remain on his parents’ health insurance plan.

Every emancipation in Wisconsin is unique because of the lack of a specific statute. Courts have the flexibility to craft emancipation orders tailored to the minors they are created for.

Rights and Privileges That Come With Emancipation

Generally, emancipation grants to the minor those rights and privileges related to managing her personal affairs, including:

  • Making financial decisions.
  • Consenting to medical treatments.
  • Choosing to not consent to medical treatment. 
  • Entering legally binding contracts.
  • Purchasing and leasing real estate.
  • Taking legal action.
  • Being sued or otherwise held legally liable.

Becoming emancipated in Wisconsin does not mean that a minor obtains all the rights and privileges that come with adulthood. Certain rights and privileges remain off limits until the emancipated minor reaches the age at which those rights are normally conferred. These rights and privileges include:

  • The right to vote.
  • The right to buy and consume alcoholic beverages.
  • The right to buy and possess a gun.
  • The privilege of holding a nonrestricted driver’s license.
  • The ability to consent to sexual intercourse with an adult to whom she is not married.