May 24, 2010

Child or Adult? It Makes a Big Difference

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     People of all ages, from two to twenty, and beyond, protest to their parents –and others -- that they are “grown up” and should be able to make their own decisions. But when does the LAW say that a person is grownup?

     A lawyer would say, “it depends.”

     The USA has fifty states, with fifty different sets of laws. Plus a “unified,” of sorts, federal government, with another set of laws that can trump the laws of any or all of the fifty states. And then because there are treaties with other countries, requiring us to recognize the laws of other countries, we may find that foreign law may impact, and even control, particular situations. Especially if we own property there, have relatives there, or simply travel there.

     Eighteen is a standard age, more or less, for being considered an adult in the USA, as demonstrated by being allowed to vote, serve in the military, and get married, all without a parent’s permission. In most states. And in most circumstances. An 18 year old can usually sue and be sued in the Court system, too.

     But persons as young as twelve have been tried as adults, when charged with certain crimes.

     There are other down sides to an ‘etched in stone’ adulthood at midnight on the eighteenth birthday. Before midnight, if the child is ill, the parents can consent to treatment. After midnight, if there’s no power of attorney, the parents’ wishes may be only ‘advisory.’ He’s an adult! And if the child is married, the parent’s wishes may not matter even before age 18.

     At age 12, 14, 16, or 17 a daughter, and sometimes a son, can get married in some states and in some circumstances. It depends on which state (or country) the child is in, whether she’s really married, or she’s considered a “victim” and the purported husband goes to jail. In some states, including Missouri, a veteran, back from Iraq, can be arrested for drinking a glass of wine if he or she has not reached age 21.

     There are many, many, situations that may change a person’s life choices, depending on whether the law considers him to be a child or an adult. Can he own a car? Write a Will? Travel alone? Sign a legally binding written contract (such as a lease to rent a car, or an apartment?) If arrested, is the punishment going to be that of a child, or an adult?

     If one is involved with the legal system, age matters!

Posted by Peggy S. Hedrick at 11:15am

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