Situation 1: Diana is 17 years old and has just given birth to a baby girl.
Question: Is Diana now emancipated from her parents?
Answer: No. Diana is not emancipated. Diana is still a minor and her parents are still legally responsible for her until she turns 18. However, Diana (not her parents) has full parental rights of her baby daughter. A minor is not emancipation by the act of giving birth. However, a pregnant minor is “emancipated with respect to matters concerning the pregnancy.” In re Smith, 16 Md.App. 209 (1972). This means that a pregnant minor has the right to control their own decisions regarding their pregnancy. This includes decisions about prenatal care and abortion. Md. Code Ann., Health-Gen. II § 20-102(c)(4)-(5).
Situation 2: Lana is 17 and wants to be legally independent of her parents.
Question: Can Lana become legally independent?
Answer: Yes, there are some ways in which Lana can become legally independent and have the some of the same rights as an adult – but it is complicated, and Maryland currently has no emancipation law that establishes a process by which a minor can petition the court to obtain that same legal rights as an 18-year-old. Read on –
Why would someone consider emancipation?
If a pregnant teen’s parents threaten to kick her out, abuse her, and/or refuse to provide her basic needs because she is pregnant, she can consider emancipation. The pregnant youth’s parents may agree to her emancipation if they do not want to be financially or legally responsible for their daughter and her child. A minor also may want to pursue legal emancipation to control one’s own affairs, such as determining where to live, attend school, keep one’s own income, or independently engage in business matters. When parents or legal guardians are missing, incarcerated, deceased, or engaged in criminal behavior, youth may seek the right to build a home on one’s own terms that is healthier, safer, and more successful.
What does emancipation mean to a pregnant minor?
Once a minor has been emancipated, she is responsible for her own care and wellbeing, such as having a place to live, a job or another source of continual income, and access to healthcare through insurance or other means. The minor is also responsible for any debt or payment for property damage. An emancipated minor may no longer be considered a juvenile in criminal courts. If the minor left foster care before legally aging out of the system, a legal emancipation may make that individual ineligible for certain benefits otherwise offered to those in care until the age of 21.
Emancipation by marriage:
Marriage will only grant a minor partial emancipation. It does not change the minor’s status concerning their right to vote, drink, sign a contract, or to take other actions where the law limits minors.
A married minor may buy or sell property, and is authorized to join with the spouse in deed, mortgage, lease, notes if the spouse is of legal age. Md. Code Ann., Est. & Trusts § 13-503(a)(1)
Note on school attendance: an exception to a requirement that a child under 18 years of age must attend school is marriage. Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-301 (a)(6) A parent of a validly married minor should not be held liable for truancy due to this exception.
A minor can apply for a marriage license at a Maryland county circuit court clerk’s office if:
- Either with consent of a parent and legal guardian; or with a certificate issued by a medical professional that confirms that the 16 or 17 year-old is pregnant or has given birth. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §2-301.
- If she is 15, she must have both the consent of a parent or legal guardian AND the medical professional certification about pregnancy or child birth. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §2-301(b)-(c).
- Those under the age of 15 are prohibited from marrying in Maryland without exception. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §2-301(c).
If a minor has a valid marriage, the minor is generally considered to be emancipated in relationship to their parents meaning the parents are no longer liable for the minor or legally responsible for them.
However, the only way for this to be certain is for the guardian to petition the court to end their guardianship through Md. Rule 10-209 – TERMINATION OF A GUARDIANSHIP OF THE PERSON. Again this can only be done through marriage if the minor has a valid marriage (Note there are still other reasons why a court may grant a termination of guardianship besides marriage).
Emancipation through Joining the Military
Emancipation by entering the military only applies to a minor that is 17 years old because the minimum age to join the military is 17 years old. 10 U.S. Code § 505 (a).
However, a minor must have the written consent of a parent(s) or guardian if they are under the age of 18. 10 U.S. Code § 505 (a).
In Maryland, there is no statute declaring that a member of the military is emancipated; however, the Court of Appeals of Maryland notes that, “Whether the entering of a dependent child into the military service constitutes an emancipation falls under the general principle that whether emancipation has occurred in a given case is a factual question.” Bradford v. Futrell, 225 Md. 512, 520, 171 A.2d 493, 497 (1961). Thus, whether a minor is emancipated through joining the military can depend on the facts of each specific situation.
Emancipation through the Courts:
Again, there is no established emancipation statute in Maryland. However, in the legal community there have been instances in which a minor has petitioned the court through legal counsel or social workers advocating on behalf of the minor. The court may be more likely to emancipate a minor if:
- She has been abandoned by her parent(s)
- She has been mistreated by her parent(s)
- Her parent is willing to give up their rights and obligation to their daughter
- The minor is financially self-sufficient (able to live on her own and have the means to cover her living expenses.)
The minor can go to Circuit Court and visit the Clerk’s office to start the emancipation process by filing a form, but it is unusual for the request to be granted without a parent or a social worker supporting the youth.
Is legal emancipation necessary?
It is also important to know that it is not always necessary for a teenager to file for a legal emancipation to live safely on her own. Some teens can escape parental abuse or homelessness by living with relatives with the agreement that their parents will still enroll them in school and take care of healthcare needs without a court order. Minors who need the rights to sign a contract, such as a lease to rent an apartment or apply for certain social services, are more likely to be interested in applying for emancipation.