Legal 18:  Emancipation or CPP?

Download this Emancipation / Legal 18 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 California Proficiency Program. When producers use the term “GED”, they are almost always incorrect. The GED is brand of a test, but is also used as a generic term (like “Kleenex” or “Bandaid”), The GED test is used nationwide, 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 CPP 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): This test has been replaced with California Proficiency Program (CPP) but the functionality is the same, and many students still have CHSPE in their pocket and use it for entertainment purposes.The CHSPE was a three hour test is given only three times a year, usually March, June and October. It had sections for math, reading, and writing. The CHSPE test 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). In 2023, the State of California replaced the CHSPE with a different program, the CPP, so that they could use existing test formats and offer the test online. The final CHSPE testing date was June 2023, so we will still see references to it in the entertainment industry for several more years as those last test-takers age out.

California Proficiency Program (CPP): This is the test you are likely looking for. 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. Here’s where things get confusing: the CPP uses the test format of the HiSET test, and you register for the CPP test through the HiSET website. HiSET is just a brand of test owned by a company called PSI Exams. The CPP is accepted at most colleges (Cal States and UCs for sure because they are California state institutions), 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.

HiSET and the CPP: The California Proficiency Program uses a brand of test called the HiSET. The HiSET testing format has five sections: mathematics, reading, writing, social studies, and science. You must first take the math, reading, and writing sections. Successful passing of those three sections will get you a California Certificate of Proficiency. That is what you need to work as a legal adult. The two additional sections are optional — social studies and science — and could be taken later. The usefulness of those added tests would be for college applications, and for national and international work. If you pass all five together, you will get a different, higher level certificate: a California High School Equivalency Certificate.

HiSET CPP Passing Criteria:
Passing scores for the CPP are different. To meet the HiSET Proficiency passing criteria, a candidate must:

  • Score at least 15 out of 20 on each of the three (3) subtests (Mathematics, Reading and Writing)
  • Score at least 4 out of 6 on the Writing subtest essay
  • Achieve a total scaled score on all three (3) HiSET subtests of at least 45 out of 60

The Transition and the State of California Statement in 2023

In April 2023, the Department of Education announced that it would be discontinuing the CHSPE and instead using the GED and HiSET test formats. This is what they wrote to Bizparentz at the time we asked how this would work for the entertainment industry:
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.”

Right now the information published on the CPP site only gives the option for HiSET testing. We are not sure if the GED has been abandoned as an option, or if they are phasing that option in some time in the future. We strongly suggest showbiz families don’t confuse the issue and just take the HiSET.

How to Register for the CPP HiSET: 
Even if you are from another state, Register on the HiSET page as if you are from California. You need a California Certificate of Proficiency in order to work as an adult in California or for major studios (whose corporations are based in California). When you go to the HiSET site, you will need to look for “California – Proficiency“. That’s listed as a state, separate from just “California”. We know — SUPER confusing. The cost is $195 for all three sections, assuming you don’t need retakes. You may test using paper, computer or test from home. You may only retake the sections three times in a calendar year, so study well!  As you register, keep in mind that you will need to submit your high school transcript (that’s because they have to verify that the child is at least in their 2nd semester of 10th grade), then wait for those transcripts to be approved (about 10 days) before registering for the test. Allow time!

How to Study for the HiSET:
There are test prep centers where you would pay for classes to prepare, practice tests, and test prep materials such as this test prep book from Amazon that are endorsed by the State of California. Make sure you always purchase the most recent edition of test prep books, since standardized tests typically change yearly. We strongly suggest taking a couple of the free practice tests before you invest in test prep courses. You may find that your child can easily pass one section and needs help in another. That’s a good thing to know before you invest.

teen girl taking a test

California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE): Don’t confuse this with the CHSPE or the CCP HiSET…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” in Mean Girls, Wednesday, Gossip Girl and Cobra Kai. They are adults, playing children. They have created an illusion that high school students are really beautiful, beefy and older looking (a practice that has been slammed by many child psychologists and body positivity non-profits). It may be that 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 regular 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 CPP — California Proficiency Program.

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, the CPP, 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, CPP, 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, the old CHSPE, and the new CPP HiSET 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 the CPP HiSET?

  • 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 CPP-HiSET 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 CPP 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!