What is emancipation?
Emancipation is the legal process by which a 16 or 17-year-old person can ask the court for an order to be released from parental control.
If you become emancipated:
- You will be able to make certain decisions on your own.
- You will be responsible for those decisions the same as an adult.
- Your parents or legal guardians will not have a responsibility to support you or give you a place to live.
Emancipation is a big decision. The court follows strict standards in deciding if you are mature enough to be emancipated and if emancipation is in your best interest.
Do I have to ask a court to become emancipated?
Usually, yes. The one exception is getting married with your parents’ or legal guardians’ permission between the ages of 16 and 18. By getting married with your parents’ permission, you become emancipated.
Steps in an emancipation case
- The first step is to ask the court to assign a lawyer to help you complete and file the paperwork (the Petition for Emancipation). A lawyer is assigned at no cost to you.
2. Fill out the Petition for Emancipation (FM-064) with your lawyer’s help.
Your lawyer will file the Petition with the district court clerk’s office where one or both of your parents or legal guardians live. (If your parents or legal guardians do not live in Maine, you cannot file for emancipation in Maine.)
3. Give notice to your parents or legal guardians.
The clerk’s office will arrange for your parent(s) or legal guardian(s) to get copies of the court papers. This is called “service.” Your lawyer and your parents will also get a Notice of Hearing from the clerk’s office.
The Notice of Hearing tells you when and where you will go to court. Your lawyer attends and represents you at the hearing.
4. Go to court for mediation and, if necessary, a court hearing on your Petition for Emancipation.
Before holding the hearing, the court may ask that you and your parent(s) or guardian(s) try to reach an agreement through mediation.
Mediation is an informal process in which a specially-trained person appointed by the court (the mediator) listens to both sides and helps the parties reach a mutually acceptable decision. The mediator does not take sides or decide who is right.
Your lawyer and your parent(s)’ or guardian(s)’ lawyer (if they have one) participate in the mediation. The mediation can be in one room, or you can ask the mediator to keep you and your parents in separate rooms.
If you and your parents come to an agreement, it will be written down and everyone will sign it. It will then be sent to the judge for approval.
If you do not reach an agreement with your parents, a court hearing will be held, or scheduled for another date.
What happens at a hearing in an emancipation case?
You (the Petitioner) present your case first
Your lawyer will call witnesses, including you.
Your parents have the right to cross-examine you and your witnesses. After you put on your case, your parents can testify and call their own witnesses. Your lawyer will be able to cross-examine your parents and their witnesses.
You and your parents may offer admissible photographs, documents, and other items as evidence.
What do you need to show to convince the court you are mature enough to take care of yourself?
You must have a plan to show:
- Where and with whom you plan to live. It is a good idea to have the person you are living with come to the hearing and testify.
- How you will support yourself. For example, if you have a job, you should bring a recent pay stub and be prepared to testify about how much you earn.
- What benefits or other kinds of support you get or have applied for, including MaineCare, food stamps, or other benefits.
- What school or vocational training program you are enrolled in. You must be in a school program if you have not graduated from high school or earned your GED.
How does the court decide?
After both sides have presented their cases, the court will make its decision.
Sometimes, the court will announce the decision right away. In other cases, the court will take some time to make the decision. If this happens, the final order will be mailed to you and your parents.
If the court decides that you should not be emancipated (denies the Petition), it may recommend that the Department of Health and Human Services provide services and counseling to you and your family while you are living together.
If you do not agree with the court’s decision, you should talk with your lawyer right away about whether to file an appeal.
If the court grants the emancipation petition
You will no longer be under the control of your parent(s) or legal guardian(s).
You will be legally able to enter into (and be responsible for) many kinds of contracts, such as a lease on an apartment or an agreement to join the military.
You will be able to sue and be sued in court in civil cases, including in Protection from Abuse and Protection from Harassment cases.
You will be able to consent to or refuse medical treatment.
Your parents will have no obligation to support you financially, give you food, clothing, or shelter.
Emancipation does not affect many age-related prohibitions and restrictions
Becoming emancipated does not change the age you must be to do certain things or engage in certain activities. For example:
- You will not be able to purchase alcohol in Maine until you are 21; and
- You will be treated as a juvenile under the Maine Juvenile Code.
Talk to someone before you decide
Becoming emancipated is a very big decision. Talk with your lawyer about the good and bad points of being emancipated. You may also want to talk with other adults you trust, such as another family member, a guidance counselor, or a teacher.
Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Kids' Legal, Emancipation in Maine page.
Stateside Legal, Emancipation and Military Service page.