Former Child Star Jena Malone Sued Mom at Age 14 for Stealing Her Earnings
The Hunger Games actor also emancipated herself.
In 1999, Jena Malone had already had played roles in Chicago Hope, Contact, Stepmom, and Touched by an Angel. She was also 14 years old and in the process of suing her mother. Jena came to fame as a child star and had convinced her mother, Debbie Malone—who was a theater actor—to move to Los Angeles for her budding career. The move paid off, and Jena found success as a young actor, especially in films.
But, when she was in her early teens, Jena accused Debbie of mismanaging her money, and she also filed for emancipation. Read on to find out how the court case played out and to learn how Jena and Debbie's relationship changed over the years.
Jena sued her mom for squandering the money she made.
In November 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that Jena had sued Debbie, claiming Debbie mismanaged Jena's earnings and lived off of them rather than putting them in a fund for her daughter. According to the newspaper, Jena filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court asserting that Debbie had squandered $1 million, and had filed an emancipation request in juvenile court.
Court documents claimed that Jena owed $20,000 in back taxes and did not have a college fund because of Debbie. Her mother was accused of spending the money on down payments for homes for family members and on "business schemes." A law required that a certain amount of a child star's earnings be placed in a fund for them until they were 18.
The LA Times reported that, at that point, a judge had stopped Debbie from "making good on her threat to move Jena, against her will, to a tiny apartment in Las Vegas," which would halt her career. The banks that held Jena's money also froze her accounts as the legal proceedings continued.
Jena was granted emancipation in 2000.
The Associated Press reported in January 2000 that Jena, then 15, had been granted emancipation. The AP also reported that she also won a court order barring Debbie from interfering in her career.
"It's sad that she doesn't have what most people have at her age," Jena's attorney Neil Olsen said. "But at least now she is able to maintain a relationship with her mother on her own terms."
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Jena said she already felt like an adult as a child star.
In a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, Jena talked about becoming emancipated as a teenager. "I wanted to be an adult, and I felt I'd already been an adult for a very long time," she said.
Becoming an emancipated minor does not mean that a teenager has all the rights of an adult, however. According to the California government website, teenagers between 14 and 17 who are emancipated minors can live on their own and apply for work permits, and are not required to be supported by their parents, among other freedoms. But, laws still apply to them based on their age, including not being allowed to purchase or drink alcohol or vote. They also cannot get married without a parent's permission and must continue schooling.
Jena's relationship with her mother improved afterwards.
Despite the lawsuit and emancipation, Jena has said in interviews that she had a positive experience growing up. Her mother and father were not together when she was born—he was married to someone else—and Jena was raised by Debbie and her girlfriend.
"I was raised by two [moms] who were lovers. When I was younger it wasn't anything that was abnormal," she told the Independent in 2008. "I had two [moms] and for me that was really exciting because when I was younger most people seemed to like their [mom] more than their dad so I'd be like, 'Ha, I've got two of them!' And I feel I got a lot of love, respect and acceptance from them. I had a really healthy normal relationship with my parents."
More recently, in a 2022 interview with Yahoo!, Jena said that she's even closer with her parents now . "I have a better relationship with my parents now than I ever did," she said.
The actor—who as an adult has appeared in The Hunger Games, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Nocturnal Animals, and Antebellum—has also given her mother some shoutouts on social media. In 2015, she praised Debbie on Facebook for completing a master's degree in business. In 2016, she shared an Instagram post on Mother's Day in honor of four people in her life. "Happy beautiful Mother's Day to my 4 beautiful mamas Debbie, Debra, Donna and Diane," she wrote alongside a poem.