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Legal Rights of a Minor

While Illinois divorce law considers the best interests of the children regarding custody and visitation, often the minor child has little direct control or rights in divorce proceedings.  Children, however, can own beneficial interests in property, consent to adoptions or guardianships after a certain age, and become legally emancipated under certain circumstances.

Is a “minor” a boy or a girl under the age of eighteen?

Yes.

Can I become “an emancipated minor” because I do not get along with my parents?

No. There is, however, an Illinois law known as the “Emancipation of Mature Minors Act.” Ordinarily minors cannot enter into legally binding contracts. The basic purpose of the “Emancipation” law is to allow a minor to live on his or her own and make binding legal contracts, like a contract for the purchase of a car, or a contract for utility (telephone, etc.) services. Before declaring a minor to be emancipated the judge must find the minor is mature.

What is a mature minor?

A mature minor is a person sixteen years or over and under the age of eighteen “who has demonstrated the ability and capacity to manage his (or her) own affairs and to live wholly or partially independent of his (or her) parents or guardian.

How do I obtain a court order to be declared an emancipated minor?

By filing a petition in court and giving your parents notice of the hearing date and that they have a right to be present and to be represented by counsel. The court does not have forms for a petition to be declared an emancipated minor. You will probably need a lawyer to assist you.

If my parents are divorced or separated, can I choose with whom I can live?

No. A child’s custody can never be based only upon a child’s wishes. If the child is sufficiently mature, the judge may interview the child. The judge will give weight to the child’s preference in accordance with whether the reasons the child wants to be with that parent are consistent with what is in the child’s best interest.

Do I have to visit with the other parent if I do not want to?

Yes. Courts orders must be obeyed. The fact that you do not want to visit with the other parent, do not enjoy visiting the other parent, are bored, etc. is not a legal reason not to visit. If you fail to visit your custodial parent may be held in contempt of court and jailed and it is also possible that you may be held in contempt of court and punished.

Is there an age I can choose the parent with whom I will live, and an age when I can decide if I must visit with a parent?

Yes. That age is when you are a legal adult, age eighteen.

But isn’t it right that a minor has an input at age fourteen?

Yes, but not in regards to custody and visitation in the framework of a divorce, legal separation, or paternity case. At age fourteen, however, you have a right to consent or not to consent to your adoption and a right to consent, or not consent in regards to a guardian being appointed for you.

Can I hold legal title to property as a minor?

Yes, but if a formal transfer of title is required, such as for real estate, a minor does not have the authority to transfer. Thus, relatives making a gift of property to a child should place title in the name of an adult, for the benefit of the minor, through a trust, or under the Illinois Uniform Transfer to Minors Act.

The Illinois Uniform Transfers to Minors Act states the ways in which “custodial property” is created and made. “Custodial property” is any property that is transferred to a custodian for the benefit of a minor. This includes income from the property. Transfers of certain property, such as securities, money, real estate, tangible personal property, beneficial interests in land trusts may be made to a minor. A custodian holds the property for the minor. All transfers must be “irrevocable” meaning that they cannot be taken back.

What is the legal age for drinking and for smoking?

The Illinois statute states that the consumption of alcoholic liquor by any person under twenty-one years of age is forbidden. Violating the drinking age is a Class A misdemeanor. However, drinking under age is allowed in religious ceremonies and under the supervision of an adult. Drinking is not prohibited in the privacy of one’s home while under the proper supervision of a parent or guardian. The smoking statute prohibits smoking by a person of less than eighteen. Violating the smoking law is a misdemeanor.

May I bring a lawsuit as a minor?

No. A minor cannot bring a lawsuit unless represented by a guardian or “next friend.” Typically, a next friend is a parent who brings the lawsuit for the child.

Can my parents be successfully sued for what I do, such as an auto accident?

No. Just because there is a parent child relationship, does not mean that your parents automatically assume responsibility for all your actions. But parents can be held liable where they fail to control their children, for negligent supervision, and parents can be held liable when a child is on an errand for a parent.

I am sixteen years old and want to stay out as late as I want, but my parents say this is against the law. Are they right?

Illinois state law gives counties, cities and towns authority to set curfew law. In McHenry County, curfew times apply to minors who are sixteen years and younger. Sunday through Thursday curfew hours are from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. For Fridays and Saturdays curfew hours are from 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Many of the municipalities in McHenry County have their own curfews.

Do I have to go to school?

Yes, Illinois law requires children between the ages of 7 and 17 to attend school. However, there are exceptions for students at least 16 years old, necessarily and lawfully employed, and involved in a graduation incentives program.

Examples of graduation incentives programs include vocational and job training courses approved by the State Superintendent and adult education courses that offer preparation for the GED test.

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