Monday, April 22, 2013

Today I am a Man: Removal of Disabilities of a Minor

 A minor under most Texas law is anyone who is either under the age of 18 years, or over 18 with certain conditions and under certain circumstances (for example 18 but still enrolled in high school).   However, in law, we see many occasions when a child is treated as an adult- most notably in the criminal law context.

On rare occasions a sixteen or seventeen year old may desire to have some of the limitations we place on children removed ("disabilities of minority").  This can occur when a 16 or 17 year old is living on his or her own and is seeking to enter into a rental lease or perhaps seeks to purchase a car or other contractual relationship and cannot because those under 18 may not be legally bound to a contract.   Chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code provides an avenue for the removal of the minority status of an individual who is at least  16 years of age. 

The minor can file this suit in their own name and must show the court that they are living separate and apart from a parent, managing conservator or guardian and that they are self-supporting and managing their own financial affairs.

A complicating factor is that the parent, guardian or managing conservator must "verify" the petition.  It is unclear whether this means the petitioner must serve them formally with notice, or merely that they sign the petition with a notary. I think this is up to the judge what this means- so a practitioner would due well to inquire beforehand.  If the parent, guardian or managing conservator cannot be found, or is unavailable then the court may appoint an amicus or attorney ad litem to verify the petition.

Other states call this procedure "emancipated minor" proceedings.  If such a proceeding was obtained in another state, a minor moving to Texas may file a certified copy of the order int the deed records of any county in Texas.

Although the procedure is rather straight forward, most 16 or 17 year olds may need to seek the help of an attorney for this procedure.  This may not be financial feasible.  Remember too that the removal of disabilities of minor only applies to the ability to contract, to get the right to make one's own educational decisions, and the like.  It does not remove other restrictions such as the right to vote, no drinking etc.

It also should be noted that depending on what age the petition is sought, it may not make sense to file this petition.  It take many months to obtain a court date in some courts.  Obviously if the minor turns 18 before or very soon after a court date, the issue becomes moot.