The New Mexico Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in Diamond v. Diamond in which it ruled that a minor child may be emancipated from his or her parents and, yet, the parents may still be obligated to pay child support for the emancipated child. The Diamond decision was a reversal of the New Mexico Court of Appeals' previous ruling that emancipated children must be able to manage their financial affairs and, therefore, could not be entitled to child support from their parents.
The specific facts of the Diamond case centered on an emancipated child's claim to child support from her mother. However, in broader terms, the Diamond ruling makes it clear that a New Mexico District Court may declare that a child aged sixteen or older to be emancipated for one, or more, of the purposes set forth in the New Mexico Emancipation of Minors Act ("the Act"), which can include things like: the ability to consent to medical care without parental consent or knowledge; enrolling in school or college; and, establishing a residence. While the new ruling clarifies the purposes for which a minor can be emancipated, it does not change the underlying requirement that emancipation must be in the minor's best interest.
In Diamond, the minor had been living apart from her mother for two to three years, during which time she paid her own expenses, attended school and worked. She sought emancipation because she was having difficulty obtaining medical insurance, accessing her school report cards and applying for a driver's permit, all of which required parental consent. The district court issued a "Declaration of Emancipation of Minor" finding that the minor had been living independently and managing her own financial affairs without support from her mother and determined that emancipation was in the minor's best interest. She was declared emancipated in all respects under the Act, except that she retained the right to support from her mother. Subsequently, a hearing officer ordered the mother to make support payments to the minor until she reached the age of eighteen or graduated from high school, whichever occurred later.
At the outset, the Diamond Court found that the minor met the prerequisites for a valid petition for emancipation, which are that: 1) the minor must be sixteen years of age or older; 2) the minor must be willingly living separate and apart from his parents, guardian or custodian; and, 3) the minor must be managing his or her financial affairs. After those factors are met, the court must find that emancipation is in the best interest of the minor.
If the prerequisites of the Act are met and the emancipation is in the minor's best interest, then the minor may be considered emancipated for one or more of the following purposes: 1) consenting to medical, dental or psychiatric care without parental consent, knowledge or liability; 2) the capacity to enter into a binding contract; 3) the capacity to sue and be sued in their own name; 4) the right to support by their parents; 5) the rights of the child's parents to their earnings and to control them; 6) establishing their own residence; 7) buying or selling real property; 8) ending vicarious liability of their parents; or, 9) enrolling in any school or college.
In finding that the minor in Diamond could be emancipated for all purposes except for ending her right to support from her mother, the Court found that there is no inconsistency in the Act's requirement that the minor must manage his or her financial affairs and requiring parents to continue to support their emancipated children. Emancipation cases can be factually and legally complicated. Anyone involved in a disputed emancipation case should contact an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible in order to examine how the Diamond ruling applies to their case.