How a Minor Can Become Emancipated in Virginia

Note: DiPietro Family Law Group Does Not Handle Emancipation Cases

Most people are familiar with the fact that the age of 18 you are legally considered an adult. You can vote at 18, enter into binding contracts and purchase cigarettes, if you so choose. However, in the state of Virginia, a minor child aged 16 and above can become an adult in the eyes of the law through a process called emancipation.

Emancipation allows a 16 or 17 year old to become responsible for all major life decisions affecting their health and well being, including healthcare decisions, school choices, entering into legally binding contracts, etc. However, emancipation is not as simple as deciding you want to be an adult one day. It is a process that must be ordered by a court.

In order to become emancipated, the child (16 years of age or older) must petition the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to be emancipated. In addition to the child seeking emancipation, a parent or guardian of the minor child may also ask the court for emancipation.

Once this petition is filed, the court has discretion to order the department of social services or other appropriate state agency to conduct an investigation into the life and family life of the child seeking emancipation. The agency will then report these findings to the court.

The court may also appoint counsel for the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the child seeking emancipation. However, the court must appoint a lawyer for the minor child to serve as a guardian ad litem and represent the child’s best interests.

Finally, before a minor child can become emancipated, the court must make one (or more) of the following three findings. The court must find that:

  1. The minor child entered into a valid marriage, regardless of whether that marriage has been subsequently dissolved; or,
  2. The minor child is currently on active duty in the military or armed forces of the United States; or,
  3. The minor child willingly lives separate and apart from his or her parents/legal guardians, with the consent of the minor’s parents/legal guardians, and the minor is capable of supporting themselves and competent in managing their own financial affairs.

Once the court makes one or more of the above findings, the judge may enter an emancipation order and the minor child will be emancipated and viewed as an adult in the eyes of the law.

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