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When am I an Adult?

Nov 29

Someone recently sent this question in: “I am 17 years old and I support myself with no help from my parents.  How can I emancipate myself and be considered an adult?”

            First of all, “emancipation” is a legal procedure where you petition the juvenile court to declare that you are no longer a minor.  Most people think that you legally become an adult when you turn 18; however, this is not true.  In Alabama, a child becomes an adult, or reaches the “age of majority” on his or her 19th birthday.  In a limited number of situations, a person under 19 can be considered as an adult.  In all of these situations, the person must be at least 18 years old.  In other words, a person under 18 can never be emancipated, or considered an adult.

            If a minor child is legally married when he or she is 18 years old, the minor is automatically emancipated.  Further, if the minor is married before he or she is 18, upon turning 18 the minor is emancipated.  This is true even if the minor is married before turning 18 and his or her spouse dies.

            Otherwise, the only way for a minor to be emancipated is to file a petition, or request for emancipation, in juvenile court.  The court can grant this request only if the minor is over 18, and only if the evidence presented to the court shows that it is in the minor’s best interest that he or she be emancipated.  Only the following people can file for emancipation of a minor: 1) the father and/or mother of the child can file an emancipation petition regarding their own child; however, if only one parent files, that parent must be the actual guardian of the minor; 2) a minor can file for his or her own emancipation only if they have no living parent or guardian, or if the child’s parents and/or guardian has abandoned them for a period of over one year, otherwise the parents or guardian of the minor child must join in the petition with the minor child.

            Even after all this, the juvenile judge is authorized to put conditions or restrictions on the minor child’s emancipation, thereby limiting the situations in which the minor may be considered an adult.

            So, in answer to the above question, because you are 17, there is not legal way to become emancipated.  When you turn 18, see an attorney and he or she may can help you.   

This column is intended for general information purposes only.  It is not intended, nor should it be construed as personal legal advice.  The answers to most legal problems rely on the specific facts of your situation; therefore, it is very important that you personally see a lawyer when these situations arise. 

 

 

This is a follow-up from last week’s question regarding at what age a child is no longer considered a minor: “If a child is a minor until he is 19, how can someone under 19 be criminally charged as an adult?”

This is an excellent question, because the general rules regarding a minor are different in criminal cases. Under Alabama law, generally a person 18 or over will be charged as an adult if they commit a criminal offense. If a person criminally charged was under 21 when the charged offense was committed, however, he may apply for what is called “Youthful Offender” treatment. After receiving a report from the probation and parole office on the individual, the court will determine whether or not the accused gets the benefit of youthful offender treatment.  Those benefits include the accused’s record being sealed and reduced potential probation and/or confinement periods. Youthful offender law is more complex than this basic description, so if you think this law may apply to you, please see the assistance of a lawyer.

There are two major exceptions to the “18 and over” rule stated above.  In fact, Alabama law requires a child 16 be charged as an adult if the charged crime is either: 1) a capital offense (mostly, these are different types of murder-related crimes); 2) a Class A felony; 3) a felony involving a deadly weapon; 4) a felony where a death occurred; 5) trafficking drugs; or 6) a felony which involves the use of a dangerous instrument against a law enforcement officer, a correctional officer, a parole or probation officer, a juvenile court officer, a district attorney or prosecuting officer, a judge, a court officer, a juror, a witness, a teacher, a principal, or employee of the public education system.  Even though the child is tried as an adult in these cases, he can still apply for youthful offender treatment.  However, again, the determination to grant youthful offender treatment is up to the judge.

A child 14 or over can be criminally tried as an adult. In these cases, the prosecutor must ask the juvenile judge to have a hearing. The juvenile judge will conduct this hearing and decide whether the child should be treated as an adult taking into consideration the nature of the offense, the prior record of the child, the extent of the physical and mental maturity of the child, and the interests of the community in treating the child as an adult, among other things.  Again, if the juvenile judge orders that the child be treated as an adult, he may apply for youthful offender treatment. Otherwise, a child under 14 must be tried as a juvenile delinquent.

This column is intended for general information purposes only.  It is not intended, nor should it be construed as personal legal advice.  The answers to most legal problems rely on the specific facts of your situation; therefore, it is very important that you personally see a lawyer when these situations arise.