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Emancipation in Maine

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What is emancipation?

If you are at least 16 years old and want to live on your own and make your own decisions, Maine's emancipation law may help you. Emancipation means that you are no longer under your parents' control.  You can be treated as an adult by others. The Maine courts follow strict standards when deciding if you are mature enough to be emancipated.  

How does emancipation work?

  • You must be 16 years old
  • You must refuse to live in a home provided by both of your parents, legal guardians or custodians
  • The Petition for Emancipation must be filed in the District Court in Maine where one of your parents, legal guardian or custodian lives
  • You must be able to prove that you have a plan to take care of your basic needs
  • You must be able to show the Court that you have sufficient maturity to make decisions for yourself, and
  • You must be able to show the Court that it is in your best interests to be emancipated.

The Maine District Court will appoint a free lawyer to represent you. That lawyer is assigned to help you fill out and file the Petition for Emancipation and to represent you in the court hearing.  To start the emancipation process, get a copy of the request for counsel form, and file it with the District Court where one of your parents lives.  You can file it by dropping it off at the clerk's office at the Court or by mailing it to the Court.   It will not cost you anything to file the paperwork.  If your parents do not live in Maine, you cannot file for emancipation in Maine  

After you file the request for counsel form, a lawyer will be assigned to you.  You will need to talk to that lawyer about your case.  If you are still living at home, and you do not want your parents to know you are trying to be emancipated, use a different mailing address for the Court to send you the name and phone number of the free lawyer. 

Will my parents know that I have contacted the Court?

You do not have to send your parents a copy of the Request for Counsel form that you file with the Court.  The Court will notify your parents that you filed a Petition for Emancipation only after you file the Petition with the Court.  This will not happen until after you have been appointed a free lawyer and that lawyer has filed your Petition for Emancipation with the Court.  After that happens, the Court will schedule a hearing and send both of your parents (or your legal guardian) and your lawyer a notice of the hearing date.  Your parents will also get a copy of your Petition and an explanation of what emancipation means.  If your parents do not agree, they can come to Court with an attorney to oppose your Petition. 

What happens after the court papers are filed and my parents are notified?

The Court may ask you and your parents to try mediation before you have a hearing.  Mediation is a way to see if you and your parents can reach an agreement without having a court hearing.  An example of an agreement is that your parents allow you to live with a relative or friend for the rest of the school year, and you agree to go back home for the summer. Or it could say that your parents agree to your emancipation.

There will be a court-appointed mediator there to help you and your parents talk.  Your lawyer will also be there with you.  Mediation can be in one room, or you can ask the mediator to keep you and your parents in separate rooms.  If you and your parents come to an agreement, it will be written down and everyone will sign it.  It will then be sent to the judge for approval. 

If you do not reach an agreement with your parents, a court hearing will be scheduled.  What you and your parents said in mediation cannot be used at the hearing.   If you do not want the public to watch your court hearing, you can ask to have the hearing closed to the public. Your parents, guardian or custodian must agree to this.

What happens at the court hearing?

Because you are the one asking to be emancipated, you go first.  Your attorney will call witnesses, including you.  Your parents have the right to cross-examine you and all your witnesses.  After you put on your case, your parents can testify and call their own witnesses.  Your attorney will be able to cross-examine your parents and their witnesses.  

At the hearing, you must show the judge that you are mature enough to take care of yourself. You must also show that you have a plan for where you will live, how you will take care of yourself (food, medical care, etc), what you are doing for school, and what your job plans are.  

The plan should include:

  • where and with whom you plan to live. It is better if the person you are living with comes to testify at the hearing

  • information about your job if you have one, like where you work, how much you make, etc. A recent wage stub will help show this

  • information about any benefits you get or have applied for, such as MaineCare, Food Stamps, Social Security, VA benefits, etc.

  • your plans for education or vocational training (you must be in a school program if you have not graduated or earned your GED)

  • your plans for other needs, such as clothing

After everyone testifies and pictures, documents, and other evidence are admitted, the Judge will make a decision.  Sometimes, the Judge may want to think about the case and may tell you that a decision will be mailed to you and your parents.  In most cases, the decision will be made the same day as the hearing.

A WORD OF CAUTION

How you act in Court  will be very important.  The Judge will consider your behavior in the courtroom when deciding if you are mature enough to take care of yourself.  Also, anything you have posted on Facebook or other social media sites, can be used in Court.  Pictures or statements on your Facebook page or your friends' or family's pages can hurt your case.  This is true even if you have your settings on private.  Finally, anything you text can also be used against you. 

What if the Court denies my petition?

If your petition is denied, the Judge may recommend that the Department of Health and Human Services provide services and counseling to you and your family while you are living together.   You also have the right to appeal a decision you do not agree with it, if you think that the Judge made an "error of law." The law is not totally clear on what the appeal procedure is. To be safe, you should file any appeal to the Superior Court within 5 business days. Talk to your court-appointed lawyer right away.

Am I automatically emancipated if I have a baby?

No. Although some girls believe that having a baby make them legally emancipated, it does not.

Am I automatically emancipated if I get married?

Yes. In Maine, if you are 16 or 17 years old and want to be married, you must have your parent's or legal guardian's written permission. Once you are married, you are automatically emancipated. This is the only situation where you are emancipated without going to Court.

Can I get child support from my parents if I am emancipated?

No.  Once you are emancipated, your parents no longer have to support you. 

Can I get Survivor's Benefits if I am emancipated?

Yes.  You are still eligible for survivor's benefits from Social Security and/or the Veterans' Adminstration (VA) if one of your parents has died.   But, when you are emancipated, you should become your own representative payee.  This means the benefits can come directly to you.  You can ask to be your own representative payee by contacting the agency that gives you your benefits, such as Social Security or VA.

Can I get my stuff from my parents?

That depends.  Even though you use things at home, like your furniture, computer, tv, and phone, they may not be yours.  Most things are probably not yours.  If your parents bought the property you use and it was not a gift to you, then the property is your parents.  You do not have a right to take it.  Anything that you bought, even if it was from allowance or gift money, is yours.  Anything that was a gift to you, like a tv for Christmas, is yours.  You have the right to take your property.  If your parents will not let you take it, you can contact the police to report it as stolen or have an adult file a small claims case on your behalf for the return of your property.

Does emancipation give me all of the rights and duties of an adult?

Emancipation gives you the rights of an adult when it comes to decision-making and entering into contracts, like a lease.  But, your age is still considered when it comes to what you can and cannot do under certain laws.  Even if you are emancipated, you are still not allowed to  possess and/or drink alcohol, smoke, or vote.   If you are charged with a crime, you will still go to juvenile court.  If you are male, you do not have to register for military service.  Laws like these, that have age limits, will still apply to you.

If I am emancipated, where can I attend school?

You go to school in the district where you live. More information on residency and attending school.

 

Related information:
Running Away: You're Not Alone
What to Wear in Court

Are You Leaving Money on the Table

March 2013