Minors are individuals under the age of majority, which is 19 in Alabama and Nebraska and 18 in all other states. Because they are not considered adults under the law, minors have limited legal control over their affairs. For instance, minors can’t vote, own property, or consent to medical treatment.
Minors typically rely on parents, legal guardians, or other authorized adults to handle such matters. For example, parents or legal guardians must sign a Consent for Medical Treatment of a Minor document on behalf of hospital patients who are minors.
Below, we discuss how the law treats minors with respect to contracts, including how and when contracts may be voided and special rules for contracts that are considered necessary for basic essentials.
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Can a minor sign a contract, and if so, would it be enforceable?
Minors can and do sign and enter into many types of contracts, such as for summer jobs, acting gigs, or car purchases. Whether these contracts are enforceable, though, is not as straightforward. Because minors don’t have legal capacity as adults, the rules for how certain types of contracts are enforced differ quite a bit from contracts between adults.
In many cases, minors can’t be held to the terms of a contract until they reach the age of majority. In other words, a minor has the right to opt out of a contract, even if the other party is an adult and is bound by the terms. Therefore, from the minor’s perspective, a contract in most instances is a good faith agreement but not a legally enforceable one.
Which kinds of contracts with minors are enforceable?
Contracts for certain items considered essential to a minor’s well-being are legally enforceable, meaning the minor cannot simply opt out of them. Some of these items (referred to as “necessaries”) are:
For instance, let’s say a 17-year-old enrolls in college and prepays for the first semester. He changes his mind before the first class and tries to recoup his payment, arguing that he did not have the legal capacity to enroll in the first place. Since education often is on the list of necessaries, depending on the state, the minor may not be able to void the contract.
Contracts with minors may also be enforceable when they involve:
- Bank regulations
- Civil and criminal penalties
- Military service
Here’s an example: A minor lies about her age so she can join the Army after running away from home. She reconciles with her family and changes her mind, admitting to the recruitment office that she’s a minor and therefore lacks the capacity to enlist. Regardless of her change of heart, she may not be able to get out of her military commitment.
Also, minors may not be able to void certain sports and entertainment contracts, although this depends on state law. Professional sports leagues, for example, spend a lot of time and money scouting young athletes and signing them to high-profile deals. Considering how much money professional leagues generate and the way teams are built, a minor deciding to opt out of a contract could cause financial damage to an organization.
How do minors opt out of, or void, contracts?
When a contract is voidable, meaning it’s not for necessaries, military service, or one of the other enforceable categories, minors generally have two ways to opt out:
- File a lawsuit asking the court to void the contract.
- Defend themselves by asserting that they lack capacity after being sued for not complying with contractual terms.
Note that minors cannot pick and choose from among the terms of a contract. The only choices are to void the entire contract or not void it at all. In practice, parties may void the contract through a Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement to avoid going through the courts. The minor may have to pay restitution or return items after a contract is voided.
What happens to a contract signed by a minor after the minor reaches the age of majority?
In most states, voidable contracts with minors become legally enforceable, or “ratified,” once those minors reach the age of majority. Some states allow a period of six months or so after a minor becomes a legal adult to void such contracts.
Understand your rights and responsibilities when signing a contract with a minor
While a minor can sign a contract, the contract may not be legally enforceable. Understanding the laws of your state before you sign a contract as a minor or with a minor will help you make informed decisions and protect your interests. If you have additional questions about contract law or other legal matters, ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.