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California Legal Ages Laws

In general, most people agree that a young child should not be treated the same as adults when it comes to punishment or legal accountability. The law seems to agree. Since young children are still developing an understanding of social and ethical norms, the law usually does not hold young children accountable for their actions -- that is, young children lack something called “legal capacity.” 

While the law cannot assign legal responsibility to an individual who lacks the mental capacity or maturity to understand the consequences of his or her actions, at what point does someone legally become an adult? People certainly mature at different ages, but states must draw the line somewhere. Therefore, each state has its own laws setting the age at which an individual reaches legal capacity, as well as the ages at which an individual may undertake certain legal actions . 

California's legal ages laws, for instance, establish that an individual reaches the "age of majority,” or the age at which an individual is legally considered an adult, when he or she reaches 18 years of age. The laws also state that children must generally be 14 years of age or older in order to be eligible for emancipation (where a minor is no longer legally under the care of his or her parents).

When it comes to having the capacity to undertake certain legal actions, California law allows a minor to sue to enforce his or her rights -- although a guardian must conduct the actual lawsuit for the minor. In California, except for a few restrictions relating to real and personal property, a minor may also make valid legal contracts. A minor may also consent to medical treatment if he or she is: at least 15 years of age, living apart from parents, and managing his or her own personal finances.

The following chart provides a quick summary of California's legal age laws.

Age of Majority

18 years of age (Fam. §6500)

Eligibility for Emancipation

14 years of age (Fam. §7120), or if married or in military (Fam. §7002)

Minors' Right to Make Contracts?

Yes (Fam. §6700), except he cannot give a delegation of power, or make contracts relating to real property or personal property not in immediate possession or control of the minor (Fam. §6701)

Minors' Right to Sue?

Yes, but must be through a Guardian (Fam. §6601)

Minors' Right Consent to Medical Treatment?

Yes, minor may consent if 15 years or older, living apart from parents, and managing own finances (§6922)

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a California family law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

More Information

For more general information on this subject and related topics, feel free to check out FindLaw’s family law section, as well as the links listed below. You may also find FindLaw’s How Long Do Parents' Legal Obligations to Their Children Continue? article to be helpful depending on your situation. Finally, as mentioned above, you may want to consider hiring a family law attorney to advise you throughout your case.

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