Emancipated Child

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

It's a dream many children have had from time to time, the idea that they could take their parents to court and "Divorce" them. Then, free from the tyranny of bedtimes and green vegetables they would be able to live their lives properly and have all that fun their parents have been denying them! So they go find a law firm willing to take their case and after the court proceedings the child is an independent entity, with no ties to former family. There have been a few cases of this in Real Life, although they never end up as a free agent as they often do in fiction, instead becoming wards of the state.

Often a symptom of Adults Are Useless, as it implies a world where children are better caretakers than their parents. See also Frivolous Lawsuit, for when the reasons for this "divorce" are spurious.

Examples of Emancipated Child include:

Fan Works

  • A common device in Harry Potter fan fiction that uses an evil or just manipulative Dumbledore -- Harry is emancipated either by something in Sirius' will, by virtue of taking on a title or a Wizengamot seat that he is entitled to because of the plot, because he bribes the goblins to fake or finagle the paperwork, or because the Ministry or other authority has to recognize him as an adult (or is tricked into doing so) when he competes in the Triwizard Competition.


  • The 1984 film Irreconcilable Differences is all about this. Drew Barrymore plays a child who actually says, "I want to divorce my parents."
  • North divorces his parents and goes out into the world to find new ones.


  • Robert Heinlein's The Star Beast. Betty Sorenson, one of the main characters, divorced her parents for an unspecified reason. The court system takes "a dim view of the arbitrary use of parental authority", such as coercion in the choice of career. Mr. Kiku warns Mrs. Stuart that her son (who was still a minor) could divorce her if she tried to prevent him from going to another star system.
  • One girl in Accelerando does this. Though technically, she doesn't emancipate herself as much as sell herself into slavery to a corporation which is ultimately owned by a trust fund of which she is the sole beneficiary. The net effect is to give her control over her own life at the age of ten.

Live Action TV

  • In Red Dwarf we find out that Rimmer divorced his parents at 14, but retained visitation rights to the family dog.
  • Reece did this in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle.
  • In Roswell, this is how Michael gets away from his Abusive Foster dad in season 1.
  • Subverted in an episode of House, a fifteen-year-old girl claims to have gotten emancipation but in reality she stole someone's identity and forged the necessary papers.
  • Maeby Funke of Arrested Development once asked the family lawyer if she could divorce her parents, and was told she needed to prove that she was living in an unstable environment. Cue Maeby attempting to help her mother have an affair.
  • The Supernatural episode "It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester" has an emancipated teen. Or rather, a centuries old witch who disguises herself as an emancipated teen.

Western Animation