Emancipation Laws in Connecticut

This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy

What is Emancipation?

Connecticut law provides a process for a child who has reached the age of sixteen, and is residing in Connecticut, to be declared emancipated and thereafter treated as a legal adult, with the same rights as an individual who has attained the age of eighteen.

Can My Child Request Emancipation?

Yes. In Connecticut, it is possible for either the child (who has attained the age of sixteen) or the child’s parents/guardian to petition the probate court for the minor’s emancipation. If the child files the petition for emancipation, the parents/guardian will be notified by a Summons from the Court. If it is the parents/guardian who make the petition, the child will be notified the same way. The Court must assign a Hearing within thirty days of the Petition for Emancipation being filed.

What is the Process for Emancipation in Connecticut?

After a Petition for Emancipation is filed and before the Hearing date, there is a period of information gathering.  The Probate Judge must ask the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) to investigate the matter and gather data that may be helpful to the Judge in the proceeding. This includes interviewing the child, the parents/guardian and speaking with other third parties, such as family members. The Judge must also appoint an Attorney for the Minor Child (“AMC”), to represent the child during the proceeding. The AMC acts as an advocate for the child’s wishes.

If warranted by reasonable cause, the Judge can also appoint a doctor or mental health professional to examine the minor. The Judge can also order the examination of a parent or guardian when there is a dispute about his or her mental health competency or ability to care for the minor.

What Does the Judge Consider When Making an Order for Emancipation?

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150b, after the Hearing, the Judge may order the emancipation of the minor, if:

  • The minor has entered into a valid marriage, whether or not the marriage has been terminated by dissolution; or
  • The minor is on active duty with any of the armed forces of the United States of America; or
  • The minor willingly lives separate and apart from his or her parents/guardian with or without consent of the parents/guardian, and the minor is managing his or her own financial affairs, regardless of the source of any lawful income; or
  • For good cause shown, it is in the best interest of the minor, any child of the minor or the parents/guardian of the minor.

There is no specific definition of “good cause shown” in the context of an emancipation proceeding. The Probate Court has discretion to consider the individual circumstances of the case, and find that there is a substantial reason or excuse to order emancipation.

What Happens After a Child is Emancipated in Connecticut?

Once emancipated, the child has all of the rights of an adult and his parents are no longer his guardians. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-150d, the effect of emancipation includes (but is not limited to):

  • The right of the child to control his own personal life, including the establishment of his own residence;
  • The right of the child to consent to medical, dental or psychiatric care without parental consent, knowledge or liability;
  • The responsibility of the child to support himself financially;
  • The right of the child to sign contracts in his own name.

How does an Order of Emancipation Impact a Custody Agreement or Separation Agreement Regarding That Child?

If a child is emancipated, it has the same practical effect upon a Custody or Separation Agreement as if the child attained the age of eighteen. A parenting plan no longer applies to the child and the parents no longer have decision-making authority over the child. Also, the parents are relieved of any obligation to support the minor child, such as the payment of child support for the benefit of the child.

Whether or not the emancipation impacts the obligations of the parents to pay for college or health insurance would depend on the specific provisions of the Custody or Separation Agreement, and may continue beyond the child’s emancipation.

Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce.  We have experience helping families navigate through all aspects of child custody issues and disputes, including emancipation-related cases.