What Is Emancipation?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

February 12, 2022

Emancipation is the process for someone younger than 18 to be legally considered an adult. North Carolina has specific requirements and considerations for individuals seeking emancipation.

Keep reading to learn more about emancipation in North Carolina and its effect on child custody and child support requirements.

Emancipation Laws in North Carolina

Emancipated minors have the same legal consideration as older adults. Once an individual becomes emancipated, their parents are no longer legally or financially responsible.

An emancipated minor may enter contracts, file court cases, or any other legal action. However, emancipation does not change the age requirements for specific activities, such as voting, joining the military, or buying alcohol.

Emancipation & Child Custody

If a minor successfully petitions for emancipation, parents (whether married, separated, or divorced) no longer have a legal obligation to support them. Court-ordered child support stops when a minor becomes a legal adult. Emancipated minors do not have to live with the primary custodial parent.

However, the loss of child support of an emancipated minor may impact other children. A judge may consider this when deliberating whether to grant a decree of emancipation.

Emancipation Process

The following are requirements for seeking emancipation through the court in North Carolina.

How to Become Emancipated

Under North Carolina law, a minor may seek emancipation in two ways.


An individual younger than 18 automatically becomes emancipated if they marry. There is no need to go to court; a legal marriage certificate is enough documentation.

Court Order

An unmarried minor aged 16 or older can file a petition for a judicial decree of emancipation. There is a hearing in which the judge considers all evidence and testimony.

Considerations for Emancipation

Granting a judicial decree of emancipation is not a trivial task. A judge must be reasonably sure that the minor will not suffer financially or personally.

North Carolina § 7B-3504 contains seven considerations of emancipation for judges to follow.

  1. The petitioner’s capacity to function as an adult
  2. The petitioner’s need to sign contracts or marry
  3. Stability of the petitioner’s living arrangement
  4. The petitioner’s employment status
  5. The parent’s need for the petitioner’s earnings if employed
  6. The level of family discord that could impede future reconciliation between petitioner and parents
  7. Quality (or existence) of parental supervision or support

Parental Coercion

Another factor for the court to consider is parental coercion or interference. A supporting parent (the one paying child support) might encourage a minor to seek emancipation. The parent receiving the support would likely oppose emancipation to avoid the loss of child support.

Who May File a Petition for Emancipation?

Individuals ages 16 or 17 who have lived in North Carolina (or its federal territories) for the previous six months may file for emancipation.

Where Are Petitions Filed?

The minor seeking emancipation files a petition with the district court in the North Carolina county where they reside.

Petition Content Requirements

North Carolina § 7B-3501 requires that all emancipation petitions contain the following:

  • The petitioner’s legal name, date of birth, state, and county of birth
  • The petitioner’s address and how long they have lived there
  • The current (or last known) address of the petitioner’s parents, legal guardian, or custodian
  • The petitioner’s reasons for seeking emancipation
  • The petitioner’s plan for self-sufficiency in terms of housing, food, and other necessities

The petition must include a copy of the minor’s birth certificate, plus an earnings statement from the petitioner’s employer, if applicable.

Serving Notice of Petition

Parents are considered necessary parties when a minor files for emancipation. The court sends a copy of the petition and a summons with the hearing’s date, time, and location. Parents (or legal guardians) have 30 days to respond.

Additional Petitioner Materials

In addition to the considerations outlined in North Carolina § 7B-3504, the judge may ask the petitioner to provide:

  • Medical documentation to ensure good physical and mental health
  • Proof of any abuse, neglect, or mistreatment if given as a reason for seeking emancipation
  • Any other legal document that the judge believes would assist in a fair and impartial ruling

Both the petitioner and the parents may provide evidence and testimony at the court hearing.


A judge may rule in favor of granting emancipation if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • The petitioner seeks emancipation without coercion and fully understands the legal and financial consequences
  • The petitioner has an explicit and lawful plan to cover living expenses
  • All necessary parties appeared before the court, failed to appear, or the 30-day period to file a response expired
  • The judge believes that emancipation is in the best interests of the petitioner

Talk to a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer

Talk to an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney with the Breeden Law Office to learn more about how emancipation affects child custody and child support.

Call (919) 661-4970 or use our online form to schedule an initial consultation.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden