Emancipation and Military Service

Photo credit: Taylor Smith. A white youth in a baseball cap looks at the camera

Emancipation

"Emancipation" is a legal term for the process that allows someone under the age of 18 to make decisions on their own and without parental consent. In general, it requires the minor to show financial independence from  his or her parents.  It may also be approved if compelling circumstances require, such as parental abuse.

Emancipation ends the parents' rights to control his or her minor child or to participate in  decision-making about the child. If a child is emancipated, the parents do not have the right to decide where the child lives or goes to school, or how their child's money is spent. The parent also has no right to the minor's wages or earnings.

The emancipated child's parents, in some situations, are also relieved of certain responsibilities. For example, the parents would no longer be required to pay child support. The parents would not be held responsible for harm that their child causes to other people or property. Instead, the minor child can be sued personally and held responsible for damages s/he causes.

Typically, a minor must apply through the Court for approval to be emancipated, and a judge must approve the request.  Court-appointed attorneys may be available for these proceedings if the minor is low-income, depending on the State.

Some States provide that certain situations automatically "emancipate" the minor without the need for other Court action.  Marriage is one type of situation that may lead to emancipation and military service is another.

You can enlist in military service at age 17. This creates two questions related to emancipation.

If I am emancipated, can I enlist in military service without parental permission?

Yes. The federal statute governing enlistments (10 USC § 505) allows an emancipated seventeen year old to enlist in the Armed Forces, as long as no parent or guardian is entitled to his or her custody and control.  This authority is also subject to regulatory guidance implemented by each of the five branches of the Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

If I enlist in military service with parental permission, am I then consisdered "emancipated" under State law?

Maybe. The answer depends on the law of the State where you are living and the facts of your personal situation.  Unless your State has a specific law on this issue, the answer will probably depend on whether your parents continue to provide you with financial  support after you enlist.

Check with your local legal aid provider or military service representative if you have questions about this in your State.

Updated January 2018