Law and Minors 

You’ve probably heard the term ‘minor’ or ‘juvenile’ but haven’t really known all of the different situations where your age will have a direct impact on what you can or cannot do, what responsibilities your parents have toward you, and what responsibilities you have to other people. The terms ‘minor’ and ‘juvenile’ usually refer to individuals who have not reached the age of majority. The age of majority is typically 18 years of age. However, there are areas where the age of majority is not 18.


For example, in most states you are considered an adult for criminal acts at 17 years old. Therefore, if you are seventeen and rob a liquor store you will NOT go into the juvenile justice system. You will be charged and sentenced as an adult. There is a growing trend in many areas across our country to allow prosecutors to charge children younger than 17 as adults if nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history are severe enough.


In many states the age of consent for sex is 16 or 17. That means that once you reach that age you can consent to have an intimate relationship. However, you will want to check your state’s law because there are types of people that many states forbid a person under 18 from having an intimate relationship with. The two primary groups included in these laws are teachers and other people in authority positions or positions of trust. An authority position might be a manager at a 16 year olds place of employment or a position of trust might be an adult supervising a community service agency or a youth group director. These are good limitations because these individuals often have a great deal of influence on the 16 or 17 year olds they interact with and that influence can really call into question whether the 16 or 17 year old has actually consented to an intimate relationship.


The age of majority for consuming alcohol in our country is 21 years of age. The drinking age in our country use to vary greatly depending on the State. However, the U.S. Congress passed a law that linked Federal Highway funding to the drinking age. If a state did not change the age to 21, then they would receive less money from the Federal government in Washington D.C. for the repair and maintenance of their highways. Therefore by 1988 all the States had raised their drinking age to 21 years old.


The 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution established 18 years old as the voting age in our country. Please remember to vote and participate in our democratic process. The reason many of you come to this website is because you are frustrated and looking for legal knowledge. The reason people between 13 and 23 are frustrated legally is because the system ignores this age group. There is very little incentive on the part of your elected representatives to advocate for you in the halls of your local government, state capital, or Washington D.C. because you don’t vote. Think about it, would you worry about someone who isn’t even going to show up to vote? Lawmakers and judges that are elected know who votes and they pass laws and make rulings that those voters want. The 18- 26 age group could have a significant impact on our lawmaking process if they just mobilized and made it to the polls to vote on a consistent basis.


Please click on the link and go to the contracts page for the specific information related to contracts.

The legal responsibilities of your parents

Your parents/guardians are legally responsible for you. The definition of what legally responsible means has evolved over time. Today, the law generally makes parents/guardians responsible for the care and protection of their children. If parents neglect to provide for the basic care and protection of their children the government can step in and take the children from the parents/guardians. We will look at a few areas that parents are generally responsible:

1. Support and Maintenance: Your parents/guardians are responsible for providing you with support. This area has grown increasingly complex because of the many changes we have seen in the structure of families in our country. Most states place the responsibility of child support on both biological parents even if they were not married when the child was born. In addition, adoptive parents have an obligation to support the children that they have adopted. Step parents typically do not have a duty to support step children. What type of support do my parents need to provide? Your parents need to provide you with suitable shelter, food, clothing, medical attention, and an education. Therefore, if you are living in a home that is infested with rats or roaches a court would find that you are not living in suitable shelter. If your parents were making you skip school to stay home and provide daycare services for a younger sibling, you are being denied your right to an education. If there is a situation in which the parents are not providing support, social workers that work for your state will typically investigate and take steps to fix the problem. Medical care is an interesting area. Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and EMTALA, hospitals that receive any government support must provide care to individuals that come to a publicly funded hospital. Therefore, if parents refuse to take their child to the hospital when there is an emergency, they risk being investigated for child neglect. Some parents refuse to take their children to the hospital for religious reasons. In situations like this courts often have to determine what is in the best interests of the child and a judge can compel the parents to take the child to the hospital.

2. Divorced Parents and Support: When parents file for divorce the amount of support that is owed the children is usually determined by using some type of formula. The formulas the states typically use have a variety of factors in the formula. Some factors might be the parents’ incomes, number of children in the family, and non-custodial parent’s income. If your parents are divorced or in the process, you might ask one of their attorneys, or the judge what method is used in your state. One of the biggest problems in child support is deadbeat parents that don’t provide the required child support. Most states have now made it a crime if a parent doesn’t pay their required support. The theory is that the idea of spending time behind bars will get the parent to pay the required support.

3. Child Abuse: Most states have laws that forbid the abuse of children. However, every state has its own definition of abuse. There are usually three aspects of child abuse; physical, emotional, and sexual. Each state usually has included at least one or all three of the types of abuse. Physical abuse might include striking a child with a belt, or your fists. You are probably wondering about parents disciplining or punishing their children. Most states allow parents to discipline their children but parents must be very careful if their techniques for disciplining (spanking, belts, etc.) cause injury. If injuries occur the parent has abused their child. Emotional harm can be any situation the child has been exposed to that has had an impact on their emotional well being. It might be a child who is left unsupervised while the parent goes out at night. It might be a child who is exposed to severe drug use in the home by the parent(s). Sexual abuse may be built into your jurisdiction’s definition of physical abuse. Sexual abuse is any type of behavior or action that involves the sexual abuse of a child. When there is suspected child abuse the state may take custody of the children, place conditions on the parents and supervise the conditions, or terminate the parents rights. In most states abuse is a crime and the parents or adults involved will be charged criminally. If a parent knows of abuse but doesn’t act to stop it that parent who didn’t report the abuse will also face criminal charges in most jurisdictions. Due to recent tragedies where abused children have died, most jurisdictions pursue abuse cases very aggressively. Sometimes this emphasis on finding abuse will misidentify abuse. I personally observed a very questionable case. The state was attempting to terminate the parents rights for abuse, but the bruising on the child was consistent with her age (toddler), learning to walk, and a drug the child was taking for a medical condition which made the child more susceptible to bruising. Their rights were terminated. Even sadder was the fact that the parent’s attorney was late and missed the hearing. There are individuals that the law has given a duty to report suspected abuse. Typically it is individuals that come into contact with children; teachers, counselors, nurses, dentists, physicians, police officers, and day care providers. Many states have passed laws that forbid people from suing individuals who report them for child abuse and it turns out there wasn’t any abuse. These laws were passed because states want people who suspect abuse to report it so children who are being abused can be protected. Minors and Medical Care As we briefly discussed above there are certain circumstances where parents must provide their child with necessary medical care. What if a minor wants to go for some type of medical treatment on their own or wants to make medical decisions for themselves? There is a great deal of variety in our nation regarding minors and what type of medical decisions they can make for themselves, so I’m only going to give you a sample of some of the areas at this time. If you are interested in your rights as a minor in your state, you can ask your physician. If you don’t want to ask your physician or don’t have a doctor you can contact your public health department, a community health clinic, a state representative, or your state’s family services agency.

Minors who break the law

Minors who break the law are called delinquents. You have often heard the term “juvenile delinquent’ but most likely you have heard it misused. Many times people use the term “juvenile delinquent” when referring to kids who are out past curfew, not listening to their parents, skipping school, etc. Actions like these are referred to as status offenses. Status offenses are behaviors that aren’t violations of criminal laws but behavior that society views as bad for minors; skipping, running away, curfew violations, and disobeying your parents. They are acts that demonstrate that a child is engaging in behavior that is not in their best interests. For example, a girl who is skipping school to hang out with her 20-29 year old co-workers from the restaurant where she works as a hostess. She has not violated any criminal law but skipping school jeopardizes her future. On the other hand, a juvenile delinquent is a minor who has committed a crime. Juvenile’s who commit crimes will normally come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. In most states the juvenile court will be within the family court. Check on your state court’s website to see where the juvenile court is located in your state because there can be a great deal of difference. For example, in Michigan the juvenile delinquents usually were handled in the Family Division of the Circuit Courts, but in the late 1990’s the local District Courts were given the option of keeping juveniles who committed minor misdemeanors at the local District Court instead of sending them to the County Circuit court. The landmark case that altered the way juveniles who are suspected or have committed a criminal act are treated by the police, prosecutors, and the courts was In re Gault. In the Gault opinion the U.S. Supreme Court held that juveniles who are being charged with a crime should be given many of the same Constitutional protections given to adults who have been charged with a crime. Some of the key requirements established by Gault are the right to be notified of the charges against you, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses testifying against you, the right to a record of the proceedings, and time to prepare a defense. Likewise you want to remember all of the important information about searches and arrest mentioned in those areas of this website because the courts in our country are also placing the burden on kids to demonstrate if some of their Constitutional rights have been violated. Therefore you want to really understand the topics and facts related to the 4th and 5th Amendment because the courts aren’t going to let you argue that you didn’t know about those rights.

Now we are going to briefly describe the general steps that a juvenile who has been arrested will experience in the criminal justice system.

1. Arrest or Intake – What you need to remember in all encounters with the police, is that the police officer has a great deal of discretion when it comes to handling the situation. Whether its letting you go with a warning on a traffic stop, warning you to go home on a curfew violation, or arresting someone under the influence of alcohol, the police officer has a great deal of options from which to choose. An argumentative individual will probably always get the traffic ticket. You want to be polite and business like at all times. But please don’t misinterpret polite as meaning not to speak up if you know your rights are being violated. When a minor breaks a law a few things might happen. First, the officer may send you home with a warning. Second, the officer might release you to your parents at the crime scene or the police station. Third, the police might decide to keep you in police custody until a court official, prosecutor, or juvenile probation officer determines if releasing the juvenile is appropriate.Miranda The record of the arrest that the police have created will usually then go to a juvenile probation officer or the prosecutor’s office to determine how to proceed with the juvenile’s case. Whoever, the official is that sees the file will usually have at least 3 options. First, they might decide to drop the charges completely. Second, they might offer the juvenile some type of diversion program. Diversion programs have become quite common. In a typical diversion program, the juvenile will admit responsibility for his/her acts and be given some type of sentence. The sentence might include family counseling, alcohol education, community service, or restitution. If the juvenile completes all of the sentence conditions and doesn’t get in any other trouble during the diversionary period, the court might destroy the record of the arrest. What happens at the end of the diversionary period would depend on your jurisdiction. The third option would be to go forward with the charges against the juvenile. An important thing to remember about this early intake stage in the juvenile justice process is that there has yet to be a U.S. Supreme Court holding that children be given an attorney at this stage. You may hire your own, but the court doesn’t have to appoint counsel for you.

2. Lock Up, Release, and the right to Bail – Just as in the adult criminal system, a court official may need to evaluate your case, and your personal history to determine if it is in the community’s or your best interest to be held in custody. Courts will usually be allowed to hold a defendant if there is any indication the charged juvenile might harm themselves or others, or will not return to court for other hearings, or runaway.

3. The Adjudication Hearing(the juvenile’s trial)- The Adjudication Hearing is the step in the juvenile justice process that is similar to a trial. The purpose of these hearings is to determine if the juvenile committed the act. One of the crucial elements that created by the Gault case is that a juvenile and his/her parents must be given timely notice regarding when this type of hearing will take place. Another important element that came from the Gault case is the right to counsel. In the Gault case the court held that in adjudication hearings where the court may decide to lock up a juvenile and take away their freedom it is crucial that the juvenile be represented by an attorney. The standard of proof at these hearings is “beyond a reasonable” doubt. This is higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard that had been used in some jurisdictions. Think of “ beyond a reasonable doubt” as 99% sure the individual committed the act vs. “preponderance of the evidence” as 51% sure the individual committed the act. An important element of the Gault decision is the juvenile’s right to confront the witnesses against him/her. Therefore, a juvenile has the right to question the people who are testifying against him/her.

4. The Sentencing or Disposition Phase – This is the step in the process after the juvenile has been found guilty at the adjudication hearing. This is the step in the process where the court will determine what will be an appropriate sentence. There is a great deal of variety in the way different jurisdictions approach sentencing. There are some areas of our country that have moved to more punitive punishments in the last few decades. There are some jurisdictions that believe juveniles can be rehabilitated and therefore have programs designed to help reform juvenile offenders vs. strictly punishing them. An important thing to remember about juvenile sentencing is that the Gault decision only applied to the adjudication or trial stage and not to the sentencing/disposition stage. You need to make sure your parents and/or your attorney know what rights you have in the sentencing/dispositional phase. For example, will you have a sentencing hearing?, will you have the right to an attorney?, what rules of evidence apply?, and will they be able to look at your school records?. These are all things you want to make sure that your attorney is familiar with in regard to the juvenile process in your jurisdiction.

Some of the sentencing options or programs available to a judge are:

a. Juvenile Detention – There is a growing trend in our country to lock up juveniles who have committed certain violent crimes or juveniles who have a history of breaking the law. Unfortunately, the juvenile detention system in our country is very poorly funded. Therefore there are many problems that arise in overcrowded and under staffed juvenile detention centers; abuse, assault, rape, drug useage, and very few programs to educate and rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

b. Probation – Most juvenile delinquents are placed on some type of probation. Probation allows the juvenile to continue their day to day life. However they are responsible for completing any programs mandated by the court and usually directed to keep the court aware of their progress in court ordered programs. The probation will often include conditions like school attendance, passing grades, obeying all laws, people who the delinquent shouldn’t hang out with, drug tests, and many others. An important thing to remember about probation is that the court will usually charge fees to monitor the juvenile while they are on probation. These fees are usually pretty high and many juvenile offenders complain that it is very difficult to pay off all the fees with part-time jobs. One juvenile offender had completed all the programs he needed and passed the time period for his probation to end, but because he still had $700.00 in fees that he owed the court, the court wouldn’t release him until he paid the fees. If a juvenile on probation violates a term of the probation the court can revoke the juvenile’s probation. The court can then re-sentence the defendant. You want to make sure you find out what the process is when the court revokes probation. Some jurisdictions follow the adult procedures which include the right to present evidence, confront opposing witnesses, and have an attorney appointed where it’s appropriate. In most jurisdictions the burden of proof to revoke is lower than beyond a reasonable doubt. In some jurisdictions it is the low “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Make sure if you are ever placed on probation to check your jurisdiction’s process and procedure regarding revocation.

c. Restitution – Restitution occurs when a juvenile is ordered to pay or somehow correct the injury that they inflicted on the victim. It might be paying to repair a damaged fence the juvenile knocked down, or it might be personally repairing a lawn the juvenile drove over. In situations where more than one juvenile took part in causing the damage, the court may divide responsibility among the defendants.

d. Intervention Programs and Counseling – Many juvenile sentences include programs that are designed to help the juvenile overcome problems that might be related to the legal problems. It might be drug or alcohol counseling, or personal or family counseling. The probation officer will typically interview the defendant and make determinations about what would be most appropriate.

e. Community Service or Work Detail – In a community service program the defendant will work for some organization in the community. Court’s will typically have a list of organizations that the juvenile can choose from. Work detail, on the other hand, is where the defendant will do work for the community. It might be cleaning up garbage in a park or along the road, or it might be cleaning the local public library.


So, you think you’re going to inherit money from someone. Juveniles can inherit money and other items. There are three primary ways people can inherit money or other items. The first is through a will. A will is a legal document that describes what an individual wants to happen to their assets when they die. A parent or any individual does not have to distribute their money equally to everyone in a will. In fact a parent could completely cut a child out and leave them nothing. However, wills can be challenged in court. This process is called contesting the will. A second way a person might inherit money is through a trust. A trust is a legal entity that is set up to manage someone’s assets for them. A trustee runs the trust for the person who created it. The trustee is responsible for making sure that the trust is managed and run the way the person who created it intended. A typical trust might include a provision that gives each child a sum of money every year. A trust allows an individual to have more control over what happens to their assets when they die because the trust is a living entity and doesn’t end when the person who created it passes away. The final way an individual might inherit money has been created by your state’s law making body and is called intestacy. Intestacy occurs when an individual dies and they have no will or trust. The laws of intestacy create formulas that designate how much money the spouse will get and then what percentage each child will receive of the remainder. For example, the spouse might get the first $100,000.00 and then the rest is divided by the number of children. Each state has its own intestacy laws so you will want to check your jurisdiction if this is an issue.

Emancipation and the Decision to be on Your Own

It is possible for a minor to be legally separated from their parents. The term for this legal separation is emancipation. A juvenile can become emancipated in a variety of ways. Sometimes an event or action will lead to the emancipation. For example, a minor might become emancipated if they get married, or are on active duty in the military. By far the most common form of emancipation now occurs when the minor petitions (asks) the court to emancipate them from their family. Most jurisdictions have established requirements that must be met in order for the court to emancipate the minor. Some of the things courts usually require are: proof that the minor can manage their own financial affairs, proof that the minor can manage their personal and social affairs, and usually a statement by an individual who believes the minor is responsible enough to be emancipated. Some individuals included in the laws are a physician, nurse, member of the clergy, psychologist, family therapist, certified social worker, school administrator, school counselor, teacher, or law enforcement officer. Usually the court will have a hearing where the parents or other interested people can testify either for or against the request for emancipation. The court will the look at all the facts and determine whether or not to grant the minor’s petition for emancipation. Usually the burden is on the minor to prove they are responsible enough to be emancipated and manage all of their affairs. If the emancipation order is granted, the order can be reversed later. For example, if a minor is emancipated and then repeatedly fails to go to school or can’t manage their financial affairs, it is possible to petition (ask) the court to reverse the emancipation order. It takes a great deal of maturity to be emancipated and it is not an action that courts take lightly. Each jurisdiction will have its own laws regarding the requirements for emancipation so check your state to see what the procedures are in your jurisdiction.