My son thinks he knows everything. He just turned 16 and says he wants to run his own life and be emancipated from his father and me. He’s even found a lawyer who will help him. Should we oppose him in court? He really isn’t ready to be on his own.

Legal emancipation is possible in North Carolina for people aged 16 and 17. A child who has been emancipated by court order is no longer under the authority of his parents. His parents no longer have the obligation to support him, and they cannot be held responsible for his actions.

While there are a few alternative ways to become emancipated, such as joining the military or getting married, it’s clear from your question that your son is planning to petition the court for emancipation.

When legal action is taken for emancipation in North Carolina, it’s vitally important whether the parents support the action. The parents may tell the judge that they approve of emancipation, and in that case the court will consider if emancipation is in the best interest of the teenager. If, however, the parents oppose emancipation, the judge will only proceed further if the minor can prove he has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parents.

So you, as parents, have almost complete control of this first checkpoint. Assuming that you have been treating your son appropriately, your opposition to emancipation can stop the petition from moving forward. However, even if you were to decide not to oppose your son’s wishes, he still may not get the release he is seeking.

The second checkpoint: Is emancipation in the child’s best interest?

Before the judge will sign an emancipation order, he will also consider whether the teenager is ready to enter the adult world. That means the child will have to submit a plan to show he can be adequately self-reliant in a number of areas. Your son would have to prove to the judge he could obtain and pay for:

  • Housing and utilities
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Transportation
  • Medical care
  • Household items and furniture
  • Other reasonable expenses for school needs, personal entertainment, and the like

Emancipation: it’s no bed of roses

Your son probably does not understand the difficulties he would face as a minor without a family to rely on. As parents of an emancipated child, you would have no obligation to provide for his living needs. If you were divorced from his father, the child support would end, too.

If this demand for emancipation is a reaction to friction within the family, you might see if family counseling could help resolve underlying issues. It is even possible that you might want to make a bargain with your son—attend family counseling for six months or a year and if he still wants emancipation after that, you will not object.

You would also be wise to seek the counsel of a trustworthy North Carolina family law attorney for a deeper analysis of your specific situation and the options available to you. By calling 910-341-7570 (or 877-593-4233 toll-free from anywhere in the state), you can schedule a confidential appointment with one of Speaks Law Firm’s compassionate lawyers. We will do everything we can to help you keep your family intact.


R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.