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MinorsToday, in almost all states, the age of majority (when a person is no longer a minor) for contractual purposes is eighteen years.1 In addition, some states provide for the termination of minority on marriage. Minority status may also be terminated by a minor’s emancipation, which occurs when a child’s parent or legal guardian relinquishes the legal right to exercise control over the child. Normally, minors who leave home tosupport themselves are consid-ered emancipated. Several jurisdictions permit minors themselves to petition a court for emancipation. For business purposes, a minor may petition a court to be treated as an adult. The general rule is that a minor can enter into any contract that an adult can, except contracts prohib-ited by law for minors (for example, the purchase of tobacco or alcoholic beverages). A contract entered into by a minor, however, is voidable at the option of that minor, subject to certain exceptions. To exer-cise the option to avoid a contract, a minor need only manifest (clearly show) an intention not to be bound by it. The minor “avoids” the contract by disaffirm-ing it.DISAFFIRMANCEThe legal avoidance, or setting aside, of a contractual obligation is referred to as disaffirmance. To disaffirm, a minor must express his or her intent, through words or conduct, not to be bound to the contract. The minor must disaffirm the entire contract, not merely a portion of it. For instance, the minor cannot decide to keep part of the goods purchased under a contract and return the remaining goods.Must Be within a Reasonable Time.A contract can ordi-narily be disaffirmed at any time during minority4 or for a reasonable period after reaching majority. What constitutes a “reasonable” time may vary. If an indi-vidual fails to disaffirm an executed contract (fully performed) within a reasonable time after reaching the age of majority, a court will likely hold that the contract has been ratified (ratification will be discussed shortly). Minor’s Obligations on Disaﬃrmance. Although all states’ laws permit minors to disaffirm contracts (with certain exceptions), states differ on the extent of a minor’s obligations on disaffirmance. Courts in most states hold that the minor need only return the goods (or other consideration) subject to the contract, pro-vided the goods are in the minor’s possession or con-trol. Even if the minor returns damaged goods, the minor often is entitled to disaffirm the contract and obtain a full refund of the purchase price.Courts in a growing number of states place an addi-tional duty on the minor to restore the adult party to the position she or he held before the contract was made. These courts may hold a minor responsible for damage, ordinary wear and tear, and depreciation of goods that the minor used prior to disaffirmance.
EXCEPTIONS TO A MINOR’S RIGHT TO DISAFFIRMState courts and legislatures have carved out several exceptions to the minor’s right to disaffirm. Marriage contracts and contracts to enlist in the armed services, for instance, cannot be avoided for public-policy reasons. Some contracts may not be disaffirmed for other reasons, including those discussed here.