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 some 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 tutorship and parental authority.
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.
These people can be tutors for a teenager:
- the teenager’s mother and father, who act as tutors together
- the teenager’s mother or father (when one parent is dead, incapacitated or has had all parental rights taken away by a court)
- the person chosen by the parents from among relatives, for example, the spouse of a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt (when one or both parents can’t take on the role of tutor)
- the person chosen by the parents in their wills, mandates for incapacity or a designation of a dative tutor sent the Public Curator (when both parents are dead or incapacitated)
- the person named by the Director of Youth Protection, if this agency intervened in the life of the child
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. A judge can sometimes make exceptions and order emancipation of younger teenagers.
What are good 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. Here are some examples:
- Myra is 17 years old. She works full-time and is completing her high school diploma on a part-time basis. Her mother died when she was 14 without naming a tutor to take care of her. She left Myra a large sum of money. Myra was placed under the custody of the DYP for several years. Myra applies for emancipation so she could manage her money and find an apartment on her own for the few years until she turns 18.
- 17-year-old Stella has been living in a foster home for the past year. Things are not going well with her foster parents and they have refused to take care of her. She is placed in the custody of the DYP. Stella asks for emancipation so she could sign a lease, move in with her boyfriend and buy a car. The DYP supports her request because she is mature and responsible.
- Julie is 16 and has a daughter. Julie asks for emancipation so she can be her daughter’s tutor.
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 “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, teenagers 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:
- by filing a declaration (statement) with the Public Curator
- by asking the court
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 $40,000 or more.
It is quite rare for the parents of a 16-year-old to file together a declaration of emancipation with the Public Curator.
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 way to achieve the same result.
Asking a Court
Teenagers can apply for simple emancipation on their own. This happens, for instance, when the tutor does not agree to the emancipation. A judge will look at reasons to make sure emancipation 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.
People under 18 automatically qualify for legal aid. 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 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
- by asking a court
Teenagers who get married are automatically fully emancipated. This doesn’t mean that 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 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.
People under 18 automatically qualify for legal aid. 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 or go to bars. Also, emancipated minors will not be tried as adults if charged with a crime.