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Now You’re 18, What Does That Mean? Legal Rights and Responsibilities When Becoming an "Adult"

Updated on December 13, 2017
TeriSilver profile image

Teri Silver is a journalist, commercial copywriter, editor, broadcast anchor, and Public Relations Specialist.

The Big Day

It’s the day every teenager waits for, that magical 18th birthday! Turning 18 is not merely a sign of becoming a legal adult, it has a number of do’s and don’ts that come along for the ride. The reality is, you may still feel like a kid, you may still be in high school (or college) and you may continue to count on mom and dad for your everyday living expenses, but you also have legal responsibilities. Childhood is over; it’s time to turn the page.

At Age 18

State Laws vary but mainly, at age 18, you are able to …

  • Vote in local and general elections
  • Serve on a jury
  • Get married
  • Open a bank account
  • Carry an organ donor card
  • Make a will and power of attorney (POA)
  • Sign contracts (for renting an apartment, taking out a loan, etc.). Remember, when you sign the contract, you are FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE to honor the terms of the legal agreement.

(Before signing anything, read the document carefully and, if possible, consult an attorney who is experienced in the matters at hand. If you don’t meet your financial obligations, you can be sued by the creditor -- the outcome of that lawsuit could have a major impact on your earnings or future earnings).

  • Enlist in the armed forces
  • Apply for credit
  • Be held criminally liable for “adult” situations, rather than stand trial in juvenile court. It means that at age 18, if you get into trouble with the law, you will face charges as an adult; the consequences can be more severe.

(As an adult in the eyes of the law, you cannot legally have sex with anyone under the age of 18. Doing so is considered to be “statutory rape” -- even if the other person consents to the act. People under the age of 18 (or any age within the parameters of state and local laws) cannot legally consent to having sex. Thus, doing so is a violation of the law and you can end up in jail).

  • Get a tattoo and/or piercing
  • Give blood (because it’s the civic thing to do)
  • Change your legal name. But do think carefully about this decision. Remember, your parents gave you this name for a particular reason. Would changing it hurt them?
  • File a lawsuit
  • Purchase fireworks … BUT ONLY in some states. Others may require your age to be at least 21 years old.

Responsibilities Include …

  • Registering for Selective Service (males).
  • Being financially liable for contracts signed. (You can get help from your parents or grandparents, but the ultimate responsibility is yours).
  • Financial support. Your parents are no longer legally obligated to pay your bills, so be nice to them!
  • Child support. At the time of your 18th birthday, if you have a child of your own -- you are then responsible for your child's financial needs.

In the State Of ….

State laws may vary but now that you’re 18-years-old, it is VERY IMPORTANT for you to understand your legal responsibilities (and rights). In most states and municipalities, 18-year-old men and women: must have vehicle insurance or proof of financial responsibility; are legally (and/or financially) responsible for all contracts signed; do have the ability to get married without parental consent; can obtain independent medical care and are able to buy a car, house or other major purchase. The list does not end there; contact the local bar association for information on specific laws that apply to 18-year-old adults in your state of residence.

What You CANNOT Do

  • Drink or be in the possession of alcohol. Most states have made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, handle and drink alcohol. These are not the only “alcohol rules” -- providing booze to anyone under age 21 and creating fake identification can get you into a lot of trouble. There are some situations where an underage person can be at a business where alcohol is served; at a restaurant (while dining with parents) is one example.
  • Gamble. Ditto as above.
  • Have Sex with anyone under the age of 18. It is that simple.

Drunk and “Under the Influence” Driving

It is NEVER acceptable to get into the driver's seat of a vehicle when you’ve been drinking alcohol, smoking pot or engaging in other nonprescription drug activity. Even an overload of the wrong prescription drug can cause impairment to driving ability.

State alcohol and driving laws differ somewhat but they all take drunk or drugged driving very seriously. Many states have “implied consent” rules -- if you are deemed by law enforcement to be in the actual physical control of a vehicle, you have automatically given consent to an alcohol impairment test (breath, urine, blood, etc.). Refusing to take the test means your license can be suspended (the suspension stays intact even if you are later found to be innocent of the DUI).

Certainly, you can take the time to learn the exact language about DUI laws but as an officially-deemed adult, it just makes more sense to act responsibly. Besides, you already know that it is illegal for 18-year-olds to drink booze, remember? Penalties are considerably more severe if you get arrested.

Establishing Credit

You're 18! it is now time to get a job and establish your own line of credit. How does one create a good credit rating? Start by opening a savings account to deposit a portion of your check every pay period. Purchase low-priced items on time -- applying for credit cards is easy because many banks and department stores will open limited-amount accounts for beginners. (The interest rates may be a bit high but the plan is to use the card and pay it off before the end of the grace period).

Be absolutely sure to make all payments before they are due. Credit ratings will allow financial lenders to determine your ability to pay back loans and other debt (such as renting an apartment or purchasing a vehicle).

Your future credit score is very important when it comes time to buy a car or house. Concerning overdue bills ... read and respond to all creditors’ notices; ignoring them may cause a problem with your credit, or worse, get you into legal trouble.

Parents, Your Kid is Now 18. That Means ….

  • Determine if he or she is still covered by your family medical or travel insurance policies. Some may allow “school-age” kids to stay under the umbrella until they are age 21(or older). Companies have different rules.
  • Child savings accounts must be transferred to adult accounts. Consult your financial institution(s) to find out their policies and processes.
  • Get ready for the “independence struggle.” Your children will want to assert their newly-found adulthood. Hey, I'm 18 now!!! Treat your kids like adults and let them make their own mistakes. If they’re not in school but still want to live with you, set some type of rental agreement and continue to enforce house rules. Give them a deadline for getting a job or into higher education classes. Basically, reduce your “parenting instinct” (you could never turn it off completely) to help the children become less dependent on you. They must learn to be responsible and stronger in their steps to the world of self-sufficiency.

Hey, 18!!!

You may not see it just yet but the number itself --18 -- is really just another number. The idea is more important; learn to take care of yourself. Always think before you make a decision because now, the aftermath can lead to serious issues. Make a game plan for your life -- go to school! Get a job and pay your own way, whenever you're able. Parents and grandparents have your back but don't take the gifts you receive for granted. The beginning of “real-world” life begins now. Happy Birthday, 18!

© 2016 Teri Silver

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