Legal 18:  Emancipation or CHSPE?

Download this Emancipation / CHPSE Info Grid  to further assist you in clarification of the different terminology and applicable laws related to emancipation. This document is in a grid format and accompanies the text of this article – think “cheat sheet”.  Feel free to share with production when they have questions.


Those of us with teens in the industry hear it a lot: “Submit 18 to Play Younger or Emancipated,” they say on the breakdowns. Do they REALLY mean 18 year olds who just LOOK really young? Then there are the horror stories of young teens who had to “divorce” their parents—Jena Malone, Miko Hughes, Dominique Mocieanu. Is emancipation good or bad?

First let’s clarify a few terms, because misconceptions and misnomers abound! Lots of people are using the wrong names for things, causing the showbiz waters to become muddy. What they SAY is not always what they MEAN.

Emancipation is the legal act of becoming independent from one’s parents before the age of majority (18 in California). You can only accomplish it three ways: getting married, joining the Armed Forces, or petitioning the court.

It requires by its nature that the teen be fully capable of supporting themselves (ie. a regular job), and be living on their own. They will be able to sign binding contracts and make their own medical decisions, BUT emancipation alone does not release them from school. In California, you must be 14 years old, and you must have your parent’s permission to petition the court for emancipation. Emancipation also allows the child access to their Coogan account money, and they will no longer have to withhold Coogan funds from their paycheck. Until they have graduated from high school, they still need a work permit and they still need to go to school—but as emancipated minors, they need no parent signature. For legal details click on the links in the right column.

teenage boy high schol graduate in victory pose blue cap and gownHigh School Graduation is exactly what it says…you must have completed all the requirements, unit-wise, to graduate from high school. This isn’t a test, it is a process and an indication of time spent. It is possible to do this at a young age, but most who accomplish this early are home-schooled (independent study). That does not mean they “cheated”—rather, the flexible schedule of a home study program allowed them to progress faster and complete all the required classes.

General Educational Development Test (GED): This is a high school equivalency test and is often confused with the CHSPE. When producers use this term, they are almost always incorrect. The GED is designed for those who dropped out, are in prison, etc and are not planning to attend a four-year college. You can’t take it until you are 18 in most cases (so that negates its’ usefulness for showbiz), and it is targeted to those who could not finish high school when they were younger (immigrants for example). It is given in many languages. In other words, it is NOT a get-out-of-school-early test.

Special note for New Jersey residents
New Jersey’s GED is different — it works like CHSPE works in California.  You can take the test when you are 16, and the certificate says “New Jersey High School Diploma” so it can be used for 18TPY situations. You won’t be able to return to public school though, so that is a significant downside. But you can still attend private school in NJ.  The high school diploma generated is being accepted by producers as “high school graduation” in California.

California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE): The three hour test is given only three times a year, usually March, June and October. It actually wasn’t designed for the entertainment industry—it was more for kids who needed to work full-time to contribute to the household expenses (agricultural workers for example).

The idea is that you can take the test, pass it, and get a Certificate of Proficiency which qualifies legally as graduating from high school. So yes, with a parent’s permission, you CAN quit school if you take this test and pass it. However, they must allow you to continue attending public school classes even after you take the test (unlike early High School Graduation) The test also allows you to enter a Community College and take classes for college credit simultaneously with high school classes. The CHSPE is accepted at most colleges (Cal States and UCs for sure), however, you would still have to meet their entrance requirements in regard to the high school units you must complete. You still have to do the work and gain the credits if college is your goal. You would not need an entertainment work permit any longer since you would use your Certificate of Proficiency instead. You can also “work as an adult”—meaning work adult hours and overtime. You must be 16 yrs. old or in your second semester of your sophomore year to take the test. The fee is about $162.


Beginning July 2023, the CHSPE will be shifting to the GED® and HiSET® testing formats. Expect some confusion, because the wording for this will change, and the test itself will change.  Right now, both of the GED and HiSet are currently only offered to students 18 years and older, but the Department of Education tells us that they will be using portions of the GED and HiSet as the new CHSPE format.  The final testing date for the current paper-based CHSPE will be on June 18, 2023. The CHSPE has three sections of testing: mathematics, reading comprehension, and language arts. Your child will need to pass any remaining sections of the test prior to the July 1, 2023 transition. If you have not yet earned a Certificate of Proficiency before the July 1, 2023 transition, sections and subtests previously passed in the current test series will no longer be valid.

There one remaining testing date to complete the current CHSPE is June 18, 2023. Registration opens for that test date on April 18, 2023.

This is what the Department Education wrote to us:

Thank you for reaching out with your questions. The exam that we used to administer the CHSPE (SAT10), is now outdated. So, we are going to utilize the State Board of Education Approved High School Equivalency Exams offered by HiSET or GED’s subtests for English Language Arts and Mathematics to administer the Proficiency Exam.

 This transition is set to begin after the summer administration in the fall of this year. Once the transition takes place, students can use either GED or HiSET’s subtests for English and Math to complete the Proficiency exam. The test can be taken at a testing site through paper and pencil OR online through live proctoring.

The proficiency exam will still be open to students currently enrolled in their second semester of sophomore year in high school. They do not have to be 16 years of age, they can be younger, as long as they are enrolled in their second semester of sophomore year in high school and can provide official transcripts to prove so. Students will still earn a Certificate of Proficiency once they pass the exam which is the legal equivalent to a high school diploma. They will still be able to gain parent or guardian’s approval to exit school if they choose.”  


For study materials, please go to the vendors webpages to look at their study resources.

teen girl taking a testHere are some helpful links to help you study for the last remaining CHSPE opportunity:

California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE): Don’t confuse this with the CHSPE…this one doesn’t do anything for you legally. However, high school students in California must pass this in order to graduate from regular public high school—so everybody takes this one. Normally students take it for the first time in 10th grade—but it doesn’t mean they can leave school. It’s basically just a standardized test.

So….WHAT DO I NEED for my child to compete with those 18 year olds who look younger?

Honestly, sometimes the producer really wants an adult LOOK. As an example, look at the “kids” on Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and AP Bio. They are adults, playing children. They have created an illusion that high school students are really beautiful, beefy and older looking. So maybe the producer really wants that look—in which case you can’t do much to increase your chances.

Other than that, it all depends on what the producer wants to accomplish with a younger actor. It might help here separate the LEGAL from the EDUCATIONAL.

Legally and educationally, the GED (except in New Jersey), the HiSET and the CAHSEE do nothing for you. So forget about ‘em. That leaves us with the other three options: Emancipation, early High School Graduation, and the CHSPE.

If the producer is concerned about minors who might “disaffirm” their contract (the LEGAL way of getting out of a contract because you were young—under 18), emancipation is what they want. The child can be on set by themselves, they can sign their own contracts, not have “mom” on the set at all, etc. The down side of emancipation is that it is solely a LEGAL remedy, and has nothing to do with the Education Code. The kid still has to go to school, and a set teacher is still needed. Child Labor laws and short work hours still apply. It also has some potential for exploitation since they may be able to take advantage of a child who may not be wise to legal issues, and the child’s signature would be binding.

If the producer is looking for a savings of time and money, it may be EDUCATIONAL options that they are really looking for. The old CHSPE or plain old High School Graduation can do that. We believe, in the entertainment industry this is what they mean MOST of the time. They just mistakenly call it “emancipation” because they don’t understand the difference. Both educational options would allow you to be done with school. No teacher is needed if the child has graduated, so the production saves that expense. More importantly, though, the production gains the three hours that kids’ spent in school previously. Kids under the age of 16 with a CHSPE or early High School Graduation will still need their parent or guardian on set, and mom will still have to sign their contracts till they are 18. Coogan funds are still blocked until the age of 18, and producers should still with hold Coogan funds from their paychecks.

We have heard of agents and managers who routinely employ lawyers to help their clients with emancipation. How sad! That is probably NOT what the producers are looking for! So why did those big names do it? They needed/wanted LEGAL control over their own money and legal affairs. Sometimes they owed large amounts of taxes due to mismanagement of funds—so they needed access to their Coogan account. In any case, emancipation is truly a last resort, a solution for things gone bad…not the way to gain a competitive edge.

neon sign saying work harder
On the flip side, early High School Graduation or the old CHSPE might be a good marketing move for kids in the middle teen years. It might allow them to compete somewhat. But there are disadvantages to everything. The down side of the CHSPE?

  • It is possible that it is not well regarded in the college world, although most parents we talked to have not experienced that. The risk is that admissions counselors will confuse it with the GED.
  • It does open a door for the child to quit school if they choose. That’s a little scary, so you would want to be sure that education has been instilled as a high value in your family, or temptation to drop out as they become successful (and busy) will be too great.
  • It means tough schedules on the set. They can work hours like an adult, with over-time…that could be hard on a teen’s growing body if it were done on a regular basis.
  • Since they will not be scheduling time for school for the child, that child would have to work on weekends or on hiatus to make up the actual high school credits if they want to truly graduate.
  • There will be no studio teacher on set for safety issues and to run interference with production. Since the parent may also be absent—better make sure Johnny can handle himself in safety and contract situations.

High profile kids and parents we talked to seemed to have a combo approach. Like many showbiz kids, they home school or do some sort of flexible independent study (see section on schooling on this site) and are continuing their education. They also may take the CHSPE as a back up plan. They don’t advertise it, but their agent knows about it and knows when to use that tool. Most of the time the production will continue to schedule a three hour block for schooling. If however, it comes down to the wire negotiation-wise (between them and an adult), or it is one day shoot, they pull out the CHSPE card and use it if they have to. Sounds like a positive compromise to us!

We would encourage all parents to educate producers, their representatives (agents, managers) and other families on the CORRECT language and the correct conditions for teens who would like to work as adults. Educate yourself on all the options so you can make the right decision for YOUR family, within your values. Don’t just take anyone’s word for something as important as this!