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A less-common application of family law

Most Iowa residents are at least somewhat familiar with common family matters, such as divorce, prenuptial agreements and paternity. However, a mention of emancipation is more likely to bring up images of Abraham Lincoln than it is to summon an idea of its other meaning: the assumption by a child of the legal rights and privileges of adulthood. 

The term refers to the fact that the court releases an emancipated minor from the custody or guardianship of those formerly responsible for him or her. While this might seem attractive to some minors with strained relationships with their guardians, the process could be somewhat complicated. Furthermore, the minor must usually prove to a judge that emancipation truly serves the best interests of all involved. 

Treating a child legally as an individual of majority is seldom necessary. As explained on FindLaw, there are only a handful of potential benefits of emancipation:

  • Child support agreements expire
  • The minor may enter into contracts, such as leases
  • The child gains control over healthcare decisions
  • Any income the child earns is fully under his or her control

This is somewhat complicated by the Iowa statutes on minority, which stipulate that minors could be bound by contracts they make, even before they become adults. The child must disaffirm the agreement and return the property in question in a reasonable timeframe in order to avoid contractual binding, according to the law.

This particular contract statute refers to situations in which assets are involved, but there is also an issue of marriage. Marriage is legal in Iowa, in limited situations, for children ages 16 to 17. However, while minors attain majority upon marriage, those who marry before the age of majority would require parental consent. A judge might decide to grant emancipation to young people whose marriage was in their respective best interests. This action could circumvent the legal necessity for a parent to approve the union. 

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