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Emancipated Child

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"I want to divorce my parents."

It's a dream many children have had from time to time, the idea that they could take their parents to court and "Divorce" them. Then, free from the tyranny of bedtimes and green vegetables they would be able to live their lives properly and have all that fun their parents have been denying them! So they go find a law firm willing to take their case and after the court proceedings, the child is an independent entity, with no ties to former family.

This is technically allowed under most legal systems, but it's a lot harder than TV will imply. Most courts will only allow it under two circumstances: one, for married minors (but minors who want to marry in the US normally need parental consent anyway nowadays), and two, for adolescents where there are truly no other good options and who have attained self-sufficiency (meaning that they are capable of supporting themselves through legal means for the foreseeable future and are not likely to go on welfare).

Often a symptom of Adults Are Useless, as it implies a world where children are better caretakers than their parents. See also Frivolous Lawsuit, for when the reasons for this "divorce" are spurious.

Occasionally a reason for a Minor Living Alone.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Airi "Nora" Nobara from Wasteful Days of High School Girls. She lives alone in an apartment paid by her parents because she couldn't tolerate living with her dad after he lied to her all of her life regarding having a pet cat because of his allergies, the condition being that she'd sustain the prospective cat with her own earnings.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Ravage book of the Marvel 2099 line, it's mentioned that kids have legal rights over their parents and are expected to receive certain benefits such as parents being polite to their friends. The main character Jean Paul-Philippe divorced his dad, but the two reconcile during the story.
  • During the Spider-Man storyline "Alpha", the titular hero-in-training uses his clout to "divorce" his parents, partially to protect them and partially because they crimp his style. When Spidey takes away (most) of his powers, he's forced to come back home as part of his punishment.

    Fan Works 
  • Avengers and Trollhunters: Unusually for this trope, it's the parents' idea to have the Trollhunters do this and it's primarily to defend them against third-party interference. The parents themselves had already (reluctantly) accepted their children's status as Trollhunters by the time this came up. Jim is actually very upset at the idea, being devoted to his mother, but she points out that it's not like he was planning on disappearing when he turned 18 anyway.
  • Used in Family by Middle Warner Sibling to explain how the Warners came to live on the studio lot. Yakko signed a contract with Warner Bros Studios that allowed them to seek legal action on his behalf to revoke the Warners' incarcerated father's parental rights and give them to Yakko. The studio provides the living space (the water tower) but Yakko has to manage the family's accounts and bills, make sure Wakko and Dot go to school and other such necessities. It's notable in that the story shows how draining all this can be on Yakko, who himself is only a young teenager, and how many mistakes he makes trying to do the job of an adult. Fortunately, he does have a lot of adult friends who are willing to offer him advice and ease his pressure, so the story is prevented from becoming a disaster.
  • In Laying Waste To Halloween both Percy and Annabeth are emancipated from their parents. Annabeth's father is dead, her stepmother is unable to care for her and she doesn't want to leave Virginia to go live in a group home. Percy's stepfather is abusive, he has a restraining order against him and his mother is in prison.
  • Discussed in The Meaning of One. After the friction between Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys over Ginny and Harry's connection almost comes to blows, Mr. Weasley points out to the rest of his family that 1) Harry has full legal access to his parents' Gringotts vault, which contains enough money to let Harry and Ginny live in luxury for the rest of their lives without even having to work and 2) Harry and Ginny's unique teleportation method lets them go anywhere they can picture, and not even Dumbledore has the slightest notion how it works or how to block it. In short, if Harry and Ginny ever decided to run away, nobody could stop them and they could live on their own for the rest of their lives. The only reason Ginny remains subject to her parent's authority is that she still loves them, and it would be wise not to push that too far.
  • Triptych Continuum: The Continuum iteration of Lyra Heartstrings is legally divorced from her parents (after they tried to push her into pursuing a career in banking rather than her mark-dictated vocation as a musician), and quite vocally considers Bon-bon the only family she has.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 1984 film Irreconcilable Differences is all about this. Drew Barrymore plays a child who actually says, "I want to divorce my parents."
  • North divorces his parents and goes out into the world to find new ones.
  • The Final Destination films have Clear Rivers, an emancipated teenager, although she didn’t divorce her parents, they died. As they’d left her the house and enough money to last until she finished school, the courts decided she was capable of living alone.

  • The Star Beast: Betty Sorenson, one of the main characters, divorced her parents for an unspecified reason. The court system takes "a dim view of the arbitrary use of parental authority", such as coercion in the choice of career. Mr. Kiku warns Mrs. Stuart that her son (who was still a minor) could divorce her if she tried to prevent him from going to another star system.
  • One girl in Accelerando does this — though technically, she doesn't emancipate herself as much as sell herself into slavery to a corporation which is ultimately owned by a trust fund of which she is the sole beneficiary. The net effect is to give her control over her own life at the age of ten.
  • The plot of My Sister's Keeper revolves around a girl trying to get medically emancipated so she will not be required to give up one of her kidneys.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's post-apocalyptic short story "The Big Space Fuck", children are given the right to sue their parents over absolutely everything, as a way to discourage breeding. The protagonist and his wife are presented with a court summons from their estranged daughter, who recently got arrested for bank robbery and needed to make it out that they'd ruined her life to avoid going to jail. They (and the sheriff presenting the summons) are promptly eaten by mutant lampreys instead.
  • Nemesis Series: Danny becomes an emancipated minor between the first and second book, as a result of her father's long history of child abuse and her parents' attempts to get access to the money she earns as a superhero, combined with the fact that her identity was leaked.
  • When My Heart Joins the Thousand: Alvie, an orphan who is allowed to be a Minor Living Alone as long as a social worker checks up on her twice a month, is granted a hearing with a judge that will give her a chance of being fully emancipated early, months before she turns eighteen. She gets emancipated by lying to the judge that she thinks she was misdiagnosed with autism and is now completely normal.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Red Dwarf we find out that Rimmer divorced his hilariously abusive parents at 14, but retained visitation rights to the family dog.
  • Francis did this before moving to Alaska in Malcolm in the Middle.
  • In Roswell, this is how Michael gets away from his Abusive Foster dad in season 1.
  • Subverted in an episode of House, a fifteen-year-old girl claims to have gotten emancipation but in reality, she stole someone's identity and forged the necessary papers.
  • Maeby Funke of Arrested Development once asked the family lawyer if she could divorce her parents, and was told she needed to prove that she was living in an unstable environment. Cue Maeby attempting to help her mother have an affair.
  • The Supernatural episode "It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester" has an emancipated teen. Or rather, a centuries-old witch who disguises herself as an emancipated teen.
  • Jenny sought to do this in Gossip Girl but in the end decided not to go through with it.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • A Victim of the Week is an actress, who turns out to be an emancipated minor now married to her manager. The dialogue implies that she bribed her parents to keep them from contesting the emancipation.
    • Another victim, a teenager with a chromosomal disorder that makes her look like a young child, applies for emancipation to get out from under the thumb of her father and grandfather, who insist on treating her like a child even though she's almost eighteen. She eventually proves that she's smart enough to take care of herself, and the emancipation is granted.
  • Eleanor did this at the age of fourteen in The Good Place, and her neglectful, self-centered parents didn't even protest. Given how absurdly stupid and selfish they both were, Eleanor probably was better off alone than she would've been with them, but the damage was already done to her mindset and personality.


    Western Animation 
  • Naturally, The Simpsons has used this as a plot. Bart, finally tired of Homer's crappy parenting and neglect, gets himself emancipated, with his income coming from Homer's garnished wages intended to pay back money he stole from Bart's brief career acting in commercials as a baby. The judge even says she would never emancipate a ten-year-old, except in this case of blatant abuse and neglect she'll allow it.
  • Angelica "divorced" her parents in an episode of Rugrats, but it was All Just a Dream.
  • Steve Smith divorces his parents in the season 2 American Dad! episode, Star Trek.
  • In Little Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers there is an episode where all the children in the town take their parents to court. Interestingly, it's played slightly (emphasis on slightly) more realistic in that the Big Bad of the series encourages them and supports their case in order to get custody of Lil Elvis.

    Real Life 
  • This is quite common among child stars, especially when they have the wealth and connections unlike regular children. Common reasons includes their parents abusing their money and fame, stealing or misusing their earnings, excessively meddling into their careers, abusing them, and so on. Some examples include Ariel Winter, Drew Barrymore, Macaulay Culkin, Corey Feldman, and Jena Malone.
  • Claudia Conway, teenage daughter of former Trump staffer Kellyanne Conway, made news when she demanded legal emancipation from her parents due to alleged emotional abuse. The news lead to Conway resigning from Trump's team few months before the 2020 election, and her vocally anti-Trump husband George Conway to resign from his political action group, before eventually walking out on the household in December.
  • While it's less common than the more volatile type — and is often less visible when it does happen due to the lack of said volatility — there have been some cases involving teens with significant careers (such as actors and athletes) where they and their parents agree to an amicable emancipation just because it's logistically easier for the person to manage their own career than for the parents to have to be involved with everything, as well as because it lifts some of the restrictions that usually apply to minors (such as requiring an adult chaperone/guardian for travel or, particularly in the film and TV industry, stricter restrictions on working hours than exist for adult actors). For example, actress Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek) was emancipated at age 15 with the consent of her parents simply because being able to work without the usual child actor restrictions would open up more opportunities for her (as directors and producers were often less willing to work with underage actors due to those limitations). Williams has made it clear that she had no problems with her parents and that the emancipation was entirely about facilitating her career; however, she has also admitted that in retrospect, the decision might not have been in her best interests, as it meant that she was expected to independently navigate an adult world as a 15-year-old, which made her a target for being taken advantage of.