Until minors become adults, at age 18, they are legally incapable of making contracts or taking other legal actions. Minors are legally subject to the control of their parents. Emancipation releases minors from this control and allows them to make contracts and live independently.
People have many different reasons for becoming emancipated. Some choose emancipation because they no longer have contact with their parents and feel that they are capable of living on their own. Others become emancipated because they are working and want the freedom to enter into their own contracts and manage their own money.
Emancipation is a major legal step and should be entered into only after serious consideration and examination of alternatives. Even emancipated minors cannot do all the things adults do. Any legal requirements that have age-specific restrictions (drinking, voting, etc.) still apply. On the other hand, emancipated minors may make contracts (rental leases, etc.) like any adult.
To petition for emancipation, you must have been a resident of Vermont for at least three months. You can find the Petition for Emancipation in the Forms section at the bottom of this web page. You can also get the form from the probate division clerk’s office during business hours.
You must complete and sign the form. The documentation you need to include is listed in the petition. These documents might be a copy of your high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development) certificate, school records, proof of employment, proof of residence, proof of an approved source of income, and any other documents you think will fulfill the evidence requirements.
You can file your petition at the probate division in the court clerk’s office. There is no fee for filing a Petition for Emancipation. Please keep a copy of the petition for your records.
The probate division may grant a decree of emancipation after notice to your parents and a hearing.
Requirements for Emancipation
Before the court can make an order of emancipation, it must determine that:
- You are at least 16 years old
- You have lived separate from your parents, custodian, or legal guardian for three months or longer
- You are managing you own financial affairs
- You have demonstrated the ability to be self-sufficient in your financial affairs and can provide proof of employment or other support ("other support" does not include general assistance, Reach Up benefits, or relying upon the financial resources of someone receiving assistance or aid)
- You either hold a high school diploma or are earning a passing grade in an educational program approved by the court and directed toward the earning of a high school diploma or its equivalent
- You are not under legal guardianship or in the custody of the Commissioner of Social and Rehabilitation Services or the Commissioner of Corrections
- Your emancipation is in your best interests considering such factors as whether you will be able to assume adult responsibilities; your adjustment to being on your own; the opinion of your parents, custodian, or guardian; and whether the emancipation will create a risk of harm to you
You may address these factors in your petition and at the hearing. The criteria for becoming an emancipated minor are located at 12 V.S.A. § 7151(b).
The burden is upon you to prove that you are eligible for an order of emancipation. At the hearing you may present witnesses who are familiar with your circumstances. If you fail to provide adequate evidence (testimony or documentary) by the conclusion of the hearing, the court must deny your petition.
Disadvantages of Emancipation
Becoming emancipated is like turning 18. You are considered an adult who is responsible for your own care, support, liabilities, and contractual obligations. While still an unemancipated minor, you are protected from certain legal actions against you, such as enforcement of contracts. Others are responsible for your care and support. Once you become emancipated, these protections disappear. Emancipation may affect your tax status as a "dependent" of another.