Legal Rights of Minors, Married Minors & Minor Parents
Many family law cases attempt to define the parameters of the legal relationship between spouses (before, during, and after marriage), between parents and children, and between relevant non-nuclear family members, such as grandparents and siblings. One topic that escapes the public discourse relates to minors that are teenagers who face adult choices, but in the eye of the law, are still considered children. At what point are minors adults and when can they make their own decisions about their health, their environment, and whether to be emancipated or not?
The Legal Definition of “Minor” in Florida
Generally speaking, a person who is under the age of 18 years of age is considered to be a minor, and is the charge of his or her parents, who have the duty and obligation to care for the minor until he or she reaches maturity. Until he or she reaches adulthood, the parents will determine where and how a child will be raised, any educational decisions, and any medical decisions, as well as consent for treatment of the minor. However, according to Florida law, there are exceptions to this based on certain legal and physical conditions that provide a minor with the powers of an adult.
The Rights of the Married Minor
First and foremost, a minor that is married is no longer considered a legal minor. Once the minor is married, regardless of whether the marriage is ultimately dissolved or the minor becomes a widow or widower, the minor is no longer a legal minor. The minor will be able to be responsible for his or her own estate, he or she has the power to execute a contract on his/her own behalf, he or she can sue and can be sued, and can decide on any medical decisions and consent to treatment on his or her own behalf.
Rights of Minors to Marry
For a minor to be able to marry in Florida, the minimum legal age starts at 16 years. However, parental consent is not required if the parents are deceased or if the minor has married previously. If the minors are parents to a child or are expecting parents to a child (with a written statement regarding the pregnancy from a licensed physician), the county court judge can decide in his or her own discretion to allow the minor parties to marry.
Rights of Pregnant Minors and Minor Mothers
If a minor becomes pregnant and is not married, she is still considered to be a legal ward of her parents, but as an expectant parent, she is permitted to consent to medical and surgical care that is related to her pregnancy. However, any medical decision not related to her pregnancy would still be the decision of her parents. The determination of whether a medical decision is “related to the pregnancy” is based on the circumstances surrounding the medical issue and treatment. The law has found that amniocentesis, prenatal care, and any type of hospitalization issues would be found by the Court to be “related to the pregnancy.” The decision to have an abortion in Florida, however, is governed by a constitutional amendment that requires parents to be notified before an unmarried minor can have an abortion.
Birth does not emancipate the minor, either, nor does it emancipate the father of the baby. She is allowed to give consent for any medical decisions or treatment for her baby, but the parents must give consent for the minor mother’s medical treatment.
Legal Exceptions for Minors Seeking Health Services Without Parental Consent
Finally, the law has exceptions for certain health crises that affect minors and under the following circumstances, the minor may receive treatment without a parental consent:
- Sexually transmitted infections; minors may be educated on, tested, and treated for an STI.
- Contraceptive Information and Non-medical Services and Maternal Health Consultations.
- Substance abuse counseling and treatment
- Outpatient mental health diagnostic and emotional crisis services
Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.