When your child turns 18, it doesn't mean that you quit providing the love, instruction and guidance that she still needs. However, in the eyes of the law, you no longer have the same legal responsibilities or legal privileges that you once had. At age 18, your child becomes a legal adult -- known as "the age of majority" -- even if she's still in high school or lives at home. Each state has its own list of rights and privileges for 18-year-olds, but most follow the same general guidelines.
One of the biggest changes in parental responsibility for an 18-year-old is your legal responsibility. You are no longer held accountable for your teenager's legal conduct, and if she is arrested, she appears in an adult court, rather than a juvenile court. The law no longer holds you accountable for your teen's high school attendance, and if she's found truant, she must address and make restitution for any truancy charges. Your teen is responsible for traffic violations, any type of criminal behavior and cheating or lying on legal documents, such as tax returns.
Limited Access to Your Child's Records
Parents can no longer access their 18-year-old's personal records, such as medical records or financial records, including bank statements and credit card statements, without the teen's consent. However, the U.S. Department of Education has some exceptions that allow parents to obtain education records. According to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act colleges can disclose education records to parents without the student's consent, if the parent has claimed the student as a dependent on his most recent tax return. If your 18-year-old is on your medical insurance plan or your car insurance plan, you may also receive documentation about traffic violations or medical claims on your policies. However, if your child wants her doctor to provide information to you, she needs to sign a release of information form with your name on it.
You are no longer legally responsible to support your child financially. In other words, you are not legally required to provide shelter, food, clothing and health care for your child. College expenses are your child's responsibility, such as tuition, fees and student loans, unless you agree to take out parent loans in your name. However, you may choose to support your 18-year-old by continuing to pay for her housing, food, car insurance, car payments, clothing, medical expenses, education expenses, personal hygiene and entertainment. This is especially important if she's still in high school and doesn't have a job to pay for her living expenses or needs help while attending college or getting started in the real world.
Important Steps for Your Teen
Discuss with your 18-year-old what privileges she now has, so she can make informed decisions and hopefully act responsibly. She can vote, make a will, serve as a juror, be an organ donor, sign contracts, receive medical treatments, apply for credit and enlist in the armed forces -- all without parental consent. On the flip side, she can also be sued for breaching contracts. Male 18-year-olds must register with the Selective Service.
Conversations with Your 18-Year-Old
Talk to your teen about any new guidelines that you're establishing as a parent, now that she's 18. Describe the conditions under which you are still willing to help out financially and let her know what you expect. For example, if your teen has a job, explain what she must pay for now. For example, you might ask her to pay her portion of the family's car insurance premiums or start buying her own clothes. Discuss whether you plan to help with college expenses and if you have any conditions, such as your teen must keep her grades above a 2.5 to keep your financial assistance. Let her know how much you plan to help with the college admissions process, including financial aid applications. Cover any household rules that may have changed now that she's an adult, such as later curfews or no curfews at all.