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When Kids Don't Want to be Kids Anymore: Texas Law on Emancipation

Under the Family Code, when a child turns 18, the child becomes an adult. In addition to being able to legally buy porn and cigarettes, a child’s 18th birthday has implications for everything from child support to criminal law. Many performers or artists—including Drew Barrymore, Courtney Love, and Francis Bean Cobain (who is, incidentally, Love’s daughter and Barrymore’s goddaughter)—have emancipated themselves from their parents before this momentous birthday, often to avoid child labor laws. See Erin Clements, Celebrities Who Sought Emancipation from Their Parents, The Huffington Post, May 21, 2013, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/celebrities-emancipated-from-parents_n_3314063.html.

            In Texas, a minor can emancipate his or herself from her parents by petitioning the court under Chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code, by implication or getting married.

            Through petitioning the Court

            If a child resident of Texas is 17 (or 16 and living apart from his parents) and self-supporting and managing his own finances, he may file suit to “remove the disabilities of minority.” The court may order the child emancipated if emancipation is in the child’s best interest. Tex. Fam. Code § 31.005.

            Through implication

            Sometimes emancipation is a fact question that requires an examination of the child and parents’ circumstances. See In re Mexican Restaurants, No. 11-04-00154-CV (Tex. App.—Eastland Dec. 2, 2004, no pet.) (not designated for publication). If the circumstances show the child lives apart from his parents and is self-supporting and that the parents have relinquished their rights to control the child, the child may be found to be implicitly emancipated. But while self-sufficiency and living apart from one’s parents may be enough to gain emancipation through a court order, it is not enough to prove implicit emancipation.

            In In re Mexican Restaurants, the appellate court examined the question of whether two minors—who lived apart from their parents, paid their own rent, and even helped support their father and stepmother—were emancipated. The children did not petition a trial court for emancipation. The appellate court determined that since the children gave their father money and he, in turn, provided them with an allowance, the father had not relinquished control over his daughters and their money. Therefore, even though the children were living apart and were self-supporting, they were not emancipated. See also In re C.P., 327 S.W.3d 296, 299 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2010, no pet.) (writing that “a minor’s cessation of living with the managing conservator, without more, is insufficient to establish emancipation.”)

            Through marriage

            Finally, when a child under the age of 18 get married, the child is emancipated. Section 1.104 of the Texas Family Code states that “a person, regardless of age, who has been married in accordance with the law of this state has the capacity and power of an adult, including the capacity to contract.” The case of Husband v. Pierce, 800 S.W.2d 661 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1990, no writ) examined this means of emancipation. There, a 15 year old minor and her boyfriend went to Mexico to get married without her parents’ consent. In Texas, a minor needs parental permission or a court order to get married, and she had neither. Id. See also Tex. Fam. Code. § 2.102 and 2.103. Her parents argued that she is not emancipated because the Mexican marriage was not a marriage “in accordance with the law of this state” as it was performed without their consent and without a court order. Husband, 800 S.W.3d 661.

            The court was not persuaded by the parents’ argument. They noted that the couple believed themselves to be married and that they treated the marriage as valid and that it is the public policy of Texas to presume every marriage is valid unless void or annulled. Id. See also Tex. Fam. Code § 1.101. Thus with a valid foreign marriage, the 15 year old was emancipated.

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