At age thirteen, Jhette Diamond moved out of her mother’s home. Jhette described the environment in the house as one of substance abuse, domestic violence, and neglect. A motivated and responsible girl, Jhette had worked since the age of eleven and was a dedicated student.

Dominique Moceanu had a markedly different childhood. Under pressure from her parents, Dominique intensively trained to become a world-class gymnast. After winning the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, Dominique and her teammates became national celebrities and earned millions of dollars in endorsements.

What unites Jhette and Dominique is what both girls did in their later teen years: sue their parents for legal emancipation. Jhette argued that she needed independence to obtain her own report cards and health insurance; Dominique contended that her parents had failed to give her a normal childhood and had squandered her fortune. Courts granted both requests.

While Dominique sought emancipation to protect her income from her parents, Jhette asked the court for the opposite. She petitioned to collect, after emancipation, both retroactive and prospective child support from her mother. The Supreme Court of New Mexico ultimately ruled in Jhette’s favor, holding that a minor could be emancipated for certain purposes while reserving the right to seek support from her parent.

The relationship between emancipation and child support is an uncertain aspect of family law. At first glance, these seem like divergent concepts: emancipation severs a relationship between parent and child, while child support creates a financial bond between them. Emancipation can be triggered automatically (through the child reaching the age of majority, marrying, or joining the military) or voluntarily (through a court order requested by the child or parent). For many centuries, the prevailing jurisprudence has held that when a child becomes emancipated, any parental support obligation ceases.

This Comment considers when, if ever, emancipation does not end the parents’ duty to provide child support. Jhette Diamond’s case in July 2012 (Diamond v Diamond) was the first of its kind, holding that a child could be considered statutorily emancipated but continue to receive support payments under certain circumstances. This Comment argues that Diamond should not be considered rogue or aberrational; instead, several states’ emancipation schemes provide room for the concept of “partial emancipation” by which a child may be deemed emancipated for some purposes but not others.

PDF