In an age when more young adults than ever are living at home with their parents, emancipation may seem like a foreign concept to many millennials. Who wouldn’t love the help of their parents as manager, financial planner, or chauffeur?
“Given the tough economic climate, adult children are likely to remain within the sphere of their parent’s influence well into their 20s, so imagining a child applying for emancipation would be quite surprising, especially since once the child has been deemed emancipated he or she essentially is giving up the right to financial support or even college contribution from their parents,” says Kristin M. Lis, family law attorney with Smedley & Lis in New Jersey.
And yet it happens, particularly when the money equation is flipped and a young person accumulates a large sum early in life with a successful acting career. As the experience of many a child star can attest, the situation can quickly turn toxic. And while minors seek emancipation for reasons that don’t always involve a dysfunctional family situation, tales of parental abuse or financial abound.
Here are some of the big-name folks who have “divorced” their parents:
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Known best as middle child Alex Dunphy on Modern Family and the voice of Sofia the First, Ariel Winter has also made news for her private life. Alleging an emotionally and physically abusive mother, Winter’s older sister Shanelle Workman filed to become the actress’s guardian and a lengthy custody battle ensued. All that ended in May 2015, when Winter announced that she was legally emancipated.
Drew Barrymore was emancipated from her mother Jaid at the age of 15, perhaps an unsurprising legal outcome given the young star’s battles with alcohol and other drugs. Nevertheless, independence seemed to be the kick in the pants that Barrymore needed. She pursued this legal status so that her working hours would no longer be restricted by child labor laws, and her career has thrived ever since.
He may be a bit of a recluse now, but at one time Macaulay Culkin was the face everyone knew, the kid from Home Alone. The success of that film franchise made him one of the richest child stars, but money didn’t make his large family happy. His parents fought a highly publicized custody battle over their seven children, a fire certainly stoked by their son’s fortune and who would have the right to control it. Culkin pulled the plug on any parental involvement with his earnings by filing for legal emancipation.
Frances Bean Cobain
The only child of rockers Courtney Love and the late Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean Cobain didn’t necessarily have ideal role models as parents. Violence and drug problems plagued Love—who won emancipation from her own parents as a teen thanks to a tumultuous upbringing—and at age 16, Frances was sent to live with her grandmother and aunt before filing for emancipation from her mother.
Emancipation doesn’t always have to be contentious and dramatic. Actress Michelle Williams of Dawson’s Creek fame was granted emancipation from her parents—with their blessing—at age 15 in an effort to skirt child labor laws and take on more demanding roles. Williams has been quoted as saying of her legally granted independence, “It was just stupid. I didn’t know what I was taking on.”
As a child star, Jena Malone worked steadily, making her face known in movies like Stepmom and Donnie Darko. But when Malone found that she didn’t have the resources to pay her taxes, she discovered that her mother had mismanaged and squandered her earnings. Malone sought and was granted legal emancipation at the age of 15.
The first of many dark turns in a once-charmed life, Corey Feldman’s great success as a child star turned sour when he discovered that his mother had mishandled his finances. Feldman claimed that the $1 million he had earned by the age of 15, thanks to roles in movies like The Goonies and Stand by Me, had dwindled to $40,000. He filed for and won emancipation from his parents shortly thereafter.
Emancipation for “normal” folks
While a young celeb likely has the earning power to make it work, emancipation is a tough road for juveniles without the financial resources to manage their entire life, from paying bills to arranging for transportation, preparing meals, and acquiring shelter.
“Without an adult’s assistance or co-signing, the road ahead for a typical young adult will be full of road blocks. I cannot imagine a landlord would be eager to enter into a lease with [an emancipated minor],” says Lis, “and unless you’re talking about a child who has somehow inherited an abundance of money that shockingly wasn’t placed in a trust account under the control of a trustee, an emancipated minor will find it nearly impossible to rent an apartment, buy a home, sign a mortgage, or enter into agreements with the local utility companies.” Heck, some aren’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.
Juvenile courts discourage emancipation filings, instead preferring to remove a child from an unhealthy home and find alternate living arrangements. “The judge must consider how the action would affect the child,” says Lis. “Even if the situation portrayed by the child is a dire one, it would be far more likely that a judge would ask the division of child services to get involved and assist the child in obtaining a placement or would seek to place the child with a relative or friend of the family, meanwhile directing support for the child to be paid by parents to the appointed caregiver.”
So while it might be a rite of passage for some child stars, in the real world, says Lis, “A minor filing for emancipation is extremely rare.”
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons