Ariel Winter Explains Why Some Children Seek Emancipation From Their Parents

March 21st 2016

Kyle Jaeger

In an interview with The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Monday, Modern Family star Ariel Winter said concerns over mental and physical safety are the biggest reasons minors seek to "divorce" their parents. Winter's story also highlights the difficulties facing many lower income children seeking to emancipate from abusive families.


Winter walked the host through the complex, emotional process of seeking independent status through the courts. While she declined to detail the reasons for her emancipation case, the actress said that "it’s been much better for me emotionally and physically to be on my own and have a better, safer household and support system."

"My mother put me into the [entertainment] industry when I was four years old, and I think when you’re four years old, you don’t really know anything that you want to do," Winter said. "You want to be everything. [Which is not] to say that this isn’t my passion and I don’t love it. I do love it and I would love to continue doing it for the rest of my life, but I'd also love to explore other avenues."

Why children seek emancipation from their parents.

The unique circumstances behind Winter's emancipation — which involved being pigeonholed in an industry from a young age — do not necessarily represent the experiences that most children in the U.S. go through on the path to emancipation, but her description of the emotional toll it took is likely to resonate.

Emancipation cases are actually fairly rare due to financial and legal complications. By and large, only children who are able to financially sustain themselves can afford to divorce their parents. That's because emancipated minors aren't legally allowed to buy homes, sign leases, or rent cars, for example.

Winter's case is unique because she was supported by both her older sister and father in her decision to emancipate from her mother, she explained to DeGeneres. In that way, she was able to overcome the financial restrictions that many minors face while seeking to legally "divorce" their parents by relying upon a family support system for the year before she turned 18.

Celebrity children tend to seek emancipation more frequently.

"[Y]ou can’t work for a wage that will sustain you economically unless you’re a child star," Amy Lemley, a lawyer at the John Burton Foundation, told The Daily Beast. "Very few juvenile courts will allow a child to even file for emancipation. Our system is just not set up for emancipated minors."

walk of fame

Among the most high-profile examples of children who sought and won emancipation from their parents as minors are: Drew Barrymore, Courtney Love, Melissa Francis, and Macaulay Culkin. But while it may help certain child stars escape home situations that feel emotionally and/or physically unsafe, the reality of emancipation in America is that it's often a process reserved for those who've already found economic security. In most cases, children who've reached the point where they feel unsafe at home, with their parents or guardians, often land in foster homes in the pursuit of legal independence.

RELATED: Ariel Winter Knows You Saw Her Scars on the Red Carpet, Here's Why She Showed Them to You