Of course you are capable of looking after yourself in the big, wide world at the ripe old age of 16. And I completely understand why you would want to divorce yourself from your parents. They obviously didn’t let you go out on a Friday night or something. I feel your pain. My parents were horrible too, what with putting silver spoons in my mouth at birth, paying for me to go to a private school where I wouldn’t be bullied or exposed to anything close to the real world, and sacrificing so much of their own happiness and hard-earned money to raise me.
I support your brave, sensible decision, you self-entitled young person. Let’s find out how we can get you away from your nasty, horrible parents. I know you will do so much better on your own with no job, no money, no one to care for you, and no one to love you. Except me, of course. I will always be with you, just like herpes.
I assume what you really want to do here, after you have had a period of time to carefully and rationally consider the issue, is to legally separate yourself from your parents so they no longer have legal control over you. The fun legal term is to ‘emancipate’ yourself from your parents.
Unfortunately for you, there is no general legal right in Australia to emancipate (or divorce) yourself from your parents.
Hey now, settle down. Don’t yell and scream and start putting on more black eyeliner. If you are really that keen to legally separate yourself from your parents we can give it a go, but I am not at all confident that you will be successful.
I hope you live in Victoria, as that is the only place in Australia where I can find a decent example of where a court agreed to separate a child from his parents. This was way back in 2004 too, and the lack of any other cases in this area since that time tells me that the 2004 case was very exceptional. In that case, a fourteen-year-old boy obtained a court order that transferred his legal guardianship away from his parents and to the State of Victoria. The court examined the relationship between the son and his parents, and decided that they had ‘irreconcilable differences’ that meant it would be harmful, physically and mentally, for the son to remain under his parents’ guardianship and control.
To be clear, this did not mean that the boy divorced his parents. Rather, there was a transfer of parental responsibility for the boy from his parents to the State of Victoria. The State then took on the role of providing for the boy’s schooling, health, social development, and so on.
You think you can prove in court that you and your parents have irreconcilable differences? Well, OK sure, you can give it a shot. For your sake, I hope that your argument before the court is something stronger than you disagree with your parents over your bedtime or your choice in boyfriend or girlfriend.
The Children’s Court of Victoria, for example, says that irreconcilable differences between parents and a child can only exist where there has been a serious breakdown in the relationship. Before the court will make a decision, it will get you and your parents to go to counselling and seek other ways to restore or better understand your relationship. It will take some time.
Other states and territories have their own laws on the role and responsibilities of parents and on what happens if a parent fails in these responsibilities. Again, none allow for divorce or emancipation from your parents. The only grounds you could use to separate yourself from your parents would be that, for some reason, your parents were unable to properly care for you as required by the law. You could then potentially get an order of a court that would legally transfer parental responsibility to another person, or to the relevant government department of the state or territory.
Look, all teen angst aside, you should not play around with these sorts of laws. They are designed to protect children from genuine, serious and life threatening harm or neglect by their parents. These laws are not something you can threaten your parents with in order to get your way or win an argument. Grow up, kiddo.
Of course, your parents’ ability to legally control what you do, and don’t do, all stops the moment you turn eighteen. From that point on in your life, you have full legal recognition as an adult and the legal rights and obligations that come with this. Have fun with the real world, mate. You can’t divorce yourself from it. Believe me, I have tried.