Betwixt & Between… con't.

The rights of a child to receive continuing care past the age of 18 (and up to 22 years of age) is mandated through the Family Law Act of Alberta (2003) whereby a young person who is enrolled full-time in an educational institution is considered to be “child”.

Canadian and provincial laws make it mandatory for all individuals up to the age of 16 to be registered in school. Failure to do so will elicit government intervention. Working under the age of 14 is not allowed (unless under exceptional circumstances such as in family businesses) and even then special conditions may apply for youth under the age of 16. Marriage is legal only upon the attainment of the age of 18, with the approval of the parents at 16 or if the girl is pregnant/or already with child.

These laws therefore curtail what a youth may do, but do not make it clear what and when a youth can do something in respect to living independently.

The situation, therefore, is that a parent or guardian is legally responsible for the care and maintenance of a youth until the age of 16, or up to the age of 22 if the “child” remains a full time student. The legal obligation of a parent to a child would appear to terminate at age 16 if the youth has left school, has become married (with parent consent) or has left home on their own volition.

Some American states have enacted legislation that “emancipates” a youth from his family and absolves his parents or guardians from any legal/financial obligations. The State of Connecticut, for example, has a process whereby a youth who is at least 16 years of age may file a “Petition for Emancipation” with the court.

In order to be eligible for this petition, the youth must meet one of the following criteria:

Successful completion of this process will provide rights and responsibilities to the emancipated youth not enjoyed by other teenagers. There are both benefits and drawbacks to these new circumstances and the court will determine whether the youth really understands them and can meet them. Once emancipated, a youth cannot reverse the process!

It should be noted that while other States do address the issue of youth emancipation, the associated processes and rights do vary across the country (see, for example, http://www.empirestatecoalition.org/emanc.html; http://www.youthrights.net/index.php?title=Texas_Emancipation_Law; http://www.youthrights.net/index.php?title=New_Mexico_Emancipation_Law); and, http://www.cls4children.org/Emancipation.htm (this document suggests that in California, the youth may even be as young as 14 to request emancipation).

No other country in the world has an “emancipation” process in place. However, it is clear from a review of the literature, that youth who have attained the age of 16 and have decided to leave home are less likely to be considered runaways by the law and thereby be forced to return home.

The various states of Australia have laid out some instructive parameters around the issue of teenagers leaving home. Principally, young people have the right to leave their parental care from as young as 14 (for boys in Tasmania; 16 for girls) to 17 for both sexes in Victoria. All the rest have 16 as the age at which a young person can decide to be on their own without their parents consent. Even though parents and others may be concerned about the youth’s safety and well being, the authorities and courts will not become involved in trying to return the youth if the following conditions are met:

  • the youth has a decent place to live,
  • the youth has enough money to live on,
  • the youth is mentally healthy, and
  • the youth is not involved in drugs, prostitution or any other illegal activities (http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/736.htm).

Continued…