A number of Texas statutes, federal laws, and constitutional provisions pertain to minors and prescribe the age at which people may start doing certain activities. For example:
- Living independently. Chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code explains how a minor can become emancipated. The legal term for emancipation is "removal of the disabilities of minority."
- Attending school. Children under the age of 18 must attend school, unless otherwise exempted, even if they are emancipated. (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.085. see also Tex. Educ. Code § 25.086)
- Voting. Persons under the age of 18 cannot vote. This is established by the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted July 1, 1971.
- Drinking alcohol. The National Minimum Age Drinking Act of 1984, passed by Congress, requires a 10% reduction in highway funds for states that do not establish 21 as the minimum age for consuming and purchasing alcohol. In response to this act of Congress, Texas raised the minimum drinking age in Texas from 19 to 21 on September 1, 1986.
- Smoking. In Texas, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to a person under the age of 18, even if that person has been emancipated. (Tex. Health & Safety Code § 161.082)
- Joining the armed forces. The minimum age for joining the United States Military is 17, if the child has parental consent, or 18 without consent. This is established in Title 10 of the United States Code, 10 U.S.C. § 505.
Three Ways to Achieve Emancipation (Elimination of Disabilities of Minority)
1. Get Married
The Texas Family Code says that "a person, regardless of age, who has been married in accordance with the law of this state has the capacity and power of an adult, including the capacity to contract." (Tex. Family Code § 1.004). That is powerful language and suggests that the quickest way to emancipation is to get married.
But it's not that simple. That thundering language is preceded by the legislator's favorite catchall phrase: "Except as expressly provided by statute or by the constitution." That means that marriage will remove the disabilities of minority for purposes of allowing the minor to sue and be sued and to allow the minor to enter into contracts, including lease agreements. But the minor still can't legally skip school, vote, drink, smoke, or join the armed forces.
2. Obtain a Court Order
A minor can ask (petition) the court to eliminate the minor's disablities of minority. The procedure and standards for accomplishing this are set out in Chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code. This applies to minors who:
- Reside in Texas;
- Are at least 17 years old, or as young as 16 if the minor is living apart from the minor's parents, conservators, or guardians; and
- Are self-supporting and managing their own financial affairs.
"Verification" means that someone has to sign a statement at the end of the petition wherein they swear or affirm that the facts given in the petition are within their personal knowledge and are true. The verification must be signed by a parent, conservator, or guardian of the child. If none of those folks can be found, then the amicus attorney (appointed by the court to represent the child) must investigate and verify the alleged facts.
The Court will appoint an amicus attorney to represent the minor at the hearing on this petition.
If a minor has a court order from another state, then subject to the limitations of that order and Section 31.006 of the Texas Family Code, that minor will retain his or her emancipated status in Texas once the minor registers the out of state order with the Texas courts.
3. Live to the Age of 18
Of course, this one seems obvious. But it's important to remember. Most of the inquiries I receive from minors who seek emancipation come from children who are already 17 and, on average, will be treated as adults for most purposes in just a few months. If you are going to be 18 in just a few months anyway, the burden of drafting a petition, paying a filing fee, getting an amicus attorney appointed, attending a final hearing, drafting an order, and getting it signed may be more than the benefit of early emancipation.