Emancipation of a Minor in North Carolina

By Lindsay Kramer

Updated October 30, 2019

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In North Carolina and throughout most of the United States, the age of majority is 18. This means that when an adolescent turns 18, he is considered a legal adult and may exercise the rights and privileges afforded to legal adults. It is possible for a minor younger than 18 to access many of these rights and privileges through a process known as emancipation.

In North Carolina, a minor can become emancipated in three ways: through marriage, by enlisting in the military, or by a court order. Emancipation through a court order is the most complex of these processes because it requires the minor to demonstrate why emancipation is in his best interest.

Process of Emancipation in North Carolina

To pursue emancipation in North Carolina, a minor must be at least 16 years old. Additionally, the minor must have resided in his current county or federal territory in the state for at least six months.

Getting married and enlisting in the United States military are two actions that automatically emancipate a minor in North Carolina. Once a minor is emancipated, no matter which route he takes to achieve it, the emancipation is irrevocable. His parents are permanently relieved of their obligation to provide for him and he is permanently considered able to manage his own financial and personal affairs.

To pursue emancipation through the court, the minor must file a petition for emancipation in the court that has jurisdiction over the county or federal territory where he resides. In his petition, the minor must outline the reasons why he is seeking emancipation and demonstrate that he fully understands what emancipation means and requires of him. After reviewing the minor’s petition, any interested parties’ objections and evidence to the contrary, the court rules on the petition. A successful emancipation petition must clearly demonstrate that emancipation is in the minor’s best interest.

Rights and Privileges Afforded by Emancipation

When a minor is emancipated, the bulk of the privileges and rights she receives are related to her legal agency. Upon becoming emancipated, the minor may:

  • Enter legally binding contracts.
  • Manage her own financial affairs, such as opening a bank account.
  • Get married without parental consent.
  • Work without a work permit.
  • Engage in business-related activities.
  • Take legal action against other parties.
  • Consent to all medical and dental procedures.
  • Be sued and possibly held liable in civil lawsuits.
  • Obtain an abortion without parental consent.

Minors hold certain rights without pursuing emancipation in North Carolina. These include:

  • The right to consent to medical procedures regarding pregnancy, STIs, drug use and emotional disturbances.
  • The right to sign a contract for a student loan if the minor is 17 years old.
  • Parental rights to their own children, including the right to consent to medical procedures for them.

Emancipation in North Carolina does not grant a minor all the rights and privileges afforded to adults. Emancipated minors may not:

  • Buy alcoholic beverages or tobacco products.
  • Obtain a full driver’s license.
  • Vote.
  • Obtain a concealed carry permit.
  • Purchase a firearm.

Emancipation and Runaway Laws

In North Carolina, a minor aged 17 will not face any legal charge or consequence for running away from home. The runaway laws in the state are unique because most states do not have similar laws in place. Under North Carolina runaway laws, a 17-year-old who leaves home is not automatically emancipated by his actions. Though the minor cannot be forced to return home, his parents are still legally obligated to support him in the same way they are required to support all minor children living at home.