Emancipation: When a Teenager Gets the Legal Rights of an Adult

jfollby / iStock / Thinkstock

In Quebec, people become adults in the eyes of the law at age 18. People under 18 are called "minors."

For some decisions, minors are not allowed to act on their own. Instead, their tutors - usually their parents - must do these things for them.

Sometimes teenagers may find it hard to wait until they're 18. They need more independence, and they need it fast!

This article explains emancipation, a legal mechanism that, in certain situations, gives teenagers more or less the same rights as an adult.

Can minors exercise their rights in the same way as adults?

Two things prevent people under 18 from exercising their rights in the same way as adults: parental authority and tutorship for minors. Emancipation limits or puts an end to parental authority and tutorship.

Parental authority refers to the rights and responsibilities of parents (or someone else who has parental authority) toward their children, from birth to adulthood: custody, supervision and education.

Tutorship for minors is the legal mechanism that protects people under 18. For example, teenagers can't sue someone in court or rent a commercial space on their own. Their tutors must agree and act for them in legal matters that can seriously impact their financial situations or their lives. The law calls these legal matters juridical acts.

These people can be tutors for a teenager:

What is emancipation?

There are two types of emancipation:

Simple emancipation is a legal process that gives teenagers many important rights but not full adult status.

Full emancipation is a legal process that gives teenagers almost all the rights of an adult. (Please refer to the question Does an emancipated minor have all the same rights as an adult?)

A teenager who has been emancipated is called an emancipated minor.

At what age can a teenager become emancipated?

Usually, teenagers must be at least 16 years old to ask for emancipation. Teenagers under 16 can apply to a court. The law doesn't specify a minimum age, but most teenagers who obtain emancipation are 15 years old or older.

What is the impact of "simple" emancipation?

With simple emancipation, teenagers are no longer under the authority of their parents or tutors. Therefore, the parents do not have the duties of custody, supervision and education. For example, once the duty of custody no longer exists, teenager do not have to live with their tutor and will not be considered runaways.

Under simple emancipation, teenagers can do some things alone that would otherwise need their tutors' involvement. For example, under simple emancipation, minors do not have to be represented by their tutors when exercising their civil rights. They can therefore sign contracts and defend their own rights.

However, the tutor of a teenager who has obtained simple emancipation still has the duty to advise and supervise acts that could seriously affect the teenager's financial situation. For example, the tutor will get involved if the teenager wants to refuse an inheritance or plans to accept a gift that comes along with a heavy burden. This could be, for example, the gift of a cottage that requires the owner to repair the balcony and clear the access routes every year.

A teenager who has obtained simple emancipation cannot take out a major loan, such as a mortgage, without permission from a  court. The court makes its decision after consulting the tutor.

How does a teenager get simple emancipation?

There are two ways for a teenager to get simple emancipation:

Filing a Declaration with the Public Curator

With the tutor's permission, a teenager who is at least 16 years old can file a declaration of emancipation with the Public Curator. The declaration must include the teenager's written request for emancipation and the tutor's consent.

The declaration must also include the agreement of the tutorship council. The tutorship council is made up of the teenager's relatives and family friends (or of just one person in some cases). Its role is to supervise the tutor and make sure this person is acting in the best interest of the teenager if the tutor is not the teenager's parent or if the teenager owns property worth $25,000 or more.

There is no tutorship council in other cases. As a result, it is quite rare for the parents of a 16-year-old to file together a declaration of emancipation with the Public Curator. The application for emancipation in this case is usually done through a court.

Also, a tutor who agrees with the legal acts the teenager wants to carry out usually does them for the teenager instead of going through emancipation. It is a simpler, less drastic way to achieve the same result.

Asking a Court 

Teenagers can apply for simple emancipation on their own. The application must be made to the Quebec Superior Court. This happens, for instance, when the tutor does not agree to the emancipation. The judge will determine whether emancipation has been requested for serious reasons and whether it is in the teenager's best interest. A judge will listen to what the tutor has to say, as well as to the opinion of the tutorship council, if there is one.

Teenagers usually qualify for legal aid due to their limited income. This means they will be assigned a lawyer to help them through the process. To learn more, visit the website of the Commission des services juridiques (legal aid).

What are the "serious reasons" for emancipation?

There must be very good reasons to give such important rights to someone who hasn't reached adulthood. The law does not simply emancipate teenagers who are upset about their curfews or whose parents forbid them from seeing some people.

Emancipation exists to protect a teenager's rights in very specific circumstances. Consider the following examples. Some are fictitious, others are based on real cases:

  • Myra is 17 years old. She works full-time and is completing her high school diploma on a part-time basis. She also takes good care of her 10-year-old sister, Charlotte, because her mother is very ill. Myra's mother dies without naming a tutor for her daughters. Nobody they know is interested in taking on this role. Myra applies for emancipation so she can become Charlotte's tutor and continue to care for her even though Myra is still under 18.
  • 15-year-old Stella is pregnant. Her parents want nothing to do with her. She is placed under the custody of the Director of Youth Protection. Stella wants to be emancipated so she can sign a lease, apply for welfare payments and be her child's tutor.
  • Huan is a mature and responsible 16-year-old. Since his parents died, his aunt Zheng has been looking after him and his finances. Huan will be starting CEGEP next year in a new city. At Huan's request, and with the approval of the tutorship council, Zheng files a declaration of emancipation for her nephew with the Public Curator. That way, when Huan moves to the new city, he will be able to sign a lease for an apartment and manage the funds that have been put aside for his education and basic needs. Zheng will continue to advise him as much as possible.
  • Federico is under the tutorship of the Director of Youth Protection. He will soon be turning 18. This means he will have to leave his group home and look after his own needs. He is asking for emancipation so he can sign a lease and other types of contracts. This will make it much easier for him to find an apartment and a job, etc.
  • A 17-year-old wants to get her driver's licence. The Société d'assurance-automobile du Québec (SAAQ) insisted on having her parents' signatures and refused the signature of a representative of her tutor, the Director of Youth Protection (DYP). It was impossible for her to get her parents' signatures since her mother was dead and her father's whereabouts were unknown. The judge emancipated her so she could get her driver's licence. (This example is based on a case from 2003. The SAAQ now accepts the signature of a DYP representative if it is accompanied by proof that the teenager is under the DYP's protection.)

These examples show that emancipation is a drastic solution for dealing with very particular situations, which often have to do with youth protection. It is generally provided to older teenagers close to adulthood who are very mature and can take on important responsibilities.

What is the impact of full emancipation?

With full emancipation (as with simple emancipation), teenagers are no longer under the authority of their parents or tutors. It gives teenagers full legal capacity, including certain rights and duties usually reserved for adults. Therefore, emancipated minors can sue their parents for support, make a will, sign a lease, buy, rent, sell, or take out a mortgage, just like adults.

However, not all of a teenager's rights are affected by emancipation. Please refer to the question Does an emancipated minor have all the same rights as an adult?

How does a teenager get full emancipation?

Teenagers can get full emancipation in two ways:

Through Marriage

Teenagers who gets married are automatically fully emancipated. This doesn't mean they can run off and get married just to have the same freedoms as an adult. By law, teenagers must have the court's permission to marry. Also, the minimum age for marriage is 16.

Asking a Court

Teenagers can also apply for full emancipation on their own. The application must be submitted to the Quebec Superior Court. This happens, for example, when the tutor does not agree to the emancipation. The judge will determine whether there are serious reasons for emancipation and whether it is in the teenager's best interest. The judge will listen to what the tutor has to say, as well as to the opinion of the tutorship council, if there is one.

Teenagers usually qualify for legal aid due to their limited income. This means they will be assigned a lawyer to help them through the process.

Does an emancipated minor have all the same rights as an adult?

No. Emancipated minors only have certain rights, including those found in the Civil Code of Québec, such as signing contracts, living away from their parents, making a will or suing someone. Emancipated minors can also obtain a driver's licence without their parents' permission. Fully emancipated minors are entitled to welfare payments, etc.

Emancipation has no effect on a teenager's rights under other laws. For example, emancipated minors do not have the right to vote, buy cigarettes, go to bars or rent movies rated 18 and older. Also, emancipated minors will not be tried as adults if charged with a crime.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.