Age of majority

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The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as recognized or declared in law. It is the moment when minors cease to be considered children and assume legal control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thus terminating the control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over them. Most countries set the age of majority at 18. The word majority here refers to having greater years and being of full age as opposed to minority, the state of being a minor. The law in a given jurisdiction may not actually use the term "age of majority". The term typically refers to a collection of laws bestowing the status of adulthood. The age of majority does not necessarily correspond to the mental or physical maturity of an individual.

Age of majority should not be confused with the age of sexual consent, marriageable age, school leaving age, drinking age, driving age, voting age, smoking age, etc., which each may be independent of and set at a different age from the age of majority.

Although a person may attain the age of majority in a particular jurisdiction, they may still be subject to age-based restrictions regarding matters such as the right to vote or stand for elective office, act as a judge, and many others.

Explanation[edit]

Age of majority can be confused with the similar concept of the age of license,[1] which also pertains to the threshold of adulthood but in a much broader and more abstract way. As a legal term of art, "license" means "permission", and it can implicate a legally enforceable right or privilege. Thus, an age of license is an age at which one has legal permission from government to do something. The age of majority, on the other hand, is legal recognition that one has grown into an adult.[2]

Age of majority pertains solely to the acquisition of control over one's person, decisions and actions, and the correlative termination of the legal authority of the parents (or guardian(s), in lieu of parent(s)) over the child’s person and affairs generally.

Many ages of license are correlated to the age of majority, but they are nonetheless legally distinct concepts. One need not have attained the age of majority to have permission to exercise certain rights and responsibilities. Some ages of license are actually higher than the age of majority. For example, the age of license to purchase alcoholic beverages is 21 in all U.S. states. Another example is the voting age, which prior to the 1970s was 21, while the age of majority was 18 in most states. In the Republic of Ireland the age of majority is 18, but one must be over 21 years of age to stand for election to the Houses of the Oireachtas.[3] Also, in Portugal the age of majority is 18, but one must be at least 25 years of age to run for public office.[4] A child who is legally emancipated by a court of competent jurisdiction automatically attains to their maturity upon the signing of the court order. Only emancipation confers the status of maturity before a person has actually reached the age of majority.

In almost all places, minors who are married are automatically emancipated. Some places also do the same for minors who are in the armed forces or who have a certain degree or diploma.[5]

Civil law[edit]

In many countries minors can be emancipated: depending on jurisdiction, this may happen through acts such as marriage, attaining economic self-sufficiency, obtaining an educational degree or diploma, or participating in a form of military service. In the United States, all states have some form of emancipation of minors.[6]

The following list the age of majority in countries (or administrative divisions) in the order of lowest to highest: