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Happy 18th Birthday, New Adult

5 Ways the Law Affects New 18-year-olds


Eighteen is a magic birthday, a milestone into adulthood accompanied by great privileges as well as serious legal implications. At 18, your teen can vote, buy a house or wed his high school sweetheart. He can also go to jail, get sued, gamble away his tuition via online poker, and make terrible stock market investments – just like you. That’s because an 18-year-old is considered an adult in nearly every state in the union.

Here are five ways the law affects your new 18-year-old adult:

  1. Ownership: An 18-year-old can’t rent a car, but he can buy one. He can also buy and sell real estate and stock, inherit property, enter into binding contracts, and get sued.

  2. Jail: Youthful legal misadventures that once might have netted parental wrath and a stern lecture from the local police – TP-ing the neighborhood, for example, shoplifting and even some minor drug possession charges – can now land an 18-year-old in jail.

  3. Jury Duty, Taxes and Selective Service: In addition to voting, 18-year-olds are eligible for jury duty, and they are responsible for paying their taxes on time. In addition, young men must register with the National Selective Service. Fail to register and your teen faces a $250,000 fine and/or five years in jail plus the loss of student loans and any federal or state employment. Need to register? Pick up a registration form at the post office or register online.

  4. Driving Without Restriction: Some 47 states have graduated driving laws that restrict the hours and terms under which new, young drivers can get behind the wheel, but all driving restrictions are lifted at age 18. Adults may chat on a hands-free cell phone, drive in the middle of the night and carry passengers.

  5. Statutory Rape: Statutory rape laws are strange things. What's permissible in some states means jail time in others. Enforcement is unpredictable. And the age of consent varies considerably from state to state. In one case, a 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for having oral sex with a 15-year-old. Click here for more information on teens, sex and the law.

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