NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Is It Illegal to Date a Minor?
Dating a minor is a tricky situation. There are a lot of legal and ethical concerns, and the laws vary quite a bit depending on where you live. In general, though, an adult dating a minor is frowned upon and in many cases illegal. Let’s break it down.
What Is Considered a Minor?
A minor is anyone under the age of 18. However, the age of consent, which is the age at which a person can legally consent to sexual activity, varies by state. In most states, the age of consent is 16 or 17. In some states, like California, the age of consent is 18.So if you’re 18 or older, dating a 17-year-old in California is illegal. But it may be legal in another state. You need to check the laws where you live to know what’s permissible.
Statutory Rape Laws
Statutory rape laws make it illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor, even if the sex is consensual. These laws vary quite a bit by state. For example:
- In California, it’s illegal for an adult (18 or older) to have sex with a minor (under 18), even if the sex is consensual.
- In Texas, it’s illegal for someone 17 or older to have sex with someone under 17, if there’s more than a 3-year age difference.
- In Michigan, the age of consent is 16, but there’s a “Romeo and Juliet” exception that allows 14- and 15-year-olds to consent to sex with someone who is less than 5 years older.
So you can see the laws cover a wide range of behaviors. The key is that it’s illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor in most cases.Some states also have additional laws besides statutory rape, like corruption of a minor, that make it illegal for an adult to engage in any sexual contact with a minor, not just intercourse.
Can You Date Without Having Sex?
Okay, so it’s pretty clear that an adult dating and having sex with a minor is illegal. But what if it’s just dating, without sex?The legal implications get murky here and really depend on the situation. Technically, there are no laws prohibiting dating between adults and minors. A 50-year-old could legally date a 16-year-old in most states.But parents and authorities often frown on these relationships. They worry that the adult is taking advantage of the minor, even without sex being involved.Some states have laws against “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” that make it illegal to influence minors to break the law. And sexual contact of any kind between an adult and a minor could lead to criminal charges like corruption of a minor.So while dating alone may not be illegal, it’s full of risks. Most experts warn adults to avoid dating minors, even without sex.
What About Romeo and Juliet Laws?
Many states have so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws that provide exceptions for consensual sex between minors and young adults. For example, a 17-year-old high school senior might be dating a 15-year-old high school sophomore.Romeo and Juliet laws typically allow a 4-year age gap. So this 17- and 15-year-old couple would be in the clear. The laws aim to prevent high school sweethearts from facing statutory rape charges.Each state’s Romeo and Juliet laws work differently. Make sure you understand the specifics in your jurisdiction.
Can Parents Forbid Their Minor from Dating an Adult?
Parents absolutely can and should forbid their minor children from dating adults. In most states, parents can file for a restraining order that legally prevents the adult from contacting their child. They can also file charges against the adult like contributing to the delinquency of a minor.Some experts argue parents should contact law enforcement anytime they discover inappropriate contact between their child and an adult. This sends a clear message that the behavior is unacceptable.But many parents hesitate involving the authorities. They worry about subjecting their child to an invasive investigation. They may just want the relationship to end.It’s a tough call. Parents should do what they feel is in the best interest of their child. Consulting a lawyer can help weigh the options.
Ethical Concerns with Adult-Minor Relationships
Setting aside the legal issues for a moment, there are big ethical problems with adults dating minors:
- Power imbalance. There’s an inherent power imbalance when an adult dates a minor. The adult has more life experience, resources, authority, and influence. This imbalance opens the door for manipulation and abuse.
- Lack of maturity. Adolescent brains are still developing impulse control and decision-making skills. Minors cannot fully grasp the consequences of their actions. So they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
- Grooming. Predatory adults may use grooming tactics like flattery, gifts, isolation, and threats to manipulate minors into inappropriate relationships. Dating can be the first step in this grooming process.
For these reasons, most experts strongly discourage adult-minor relationships, even if they are legal. The risks to the minor’s safety and wellbeing are too high.
What If You’re Close in Age?
Okay, say an 18-year-old high school senior is dating a 17-year-old junior. That’s just a 1-year age gap. Is that okay?Opinions vary on this situation. Some believe close-in-age teenage relationships are fairly harmless. Others argue any 18-year-old dating a minor is unethical.Here are a few considerations around these borderline adult-minor relationships:
- Check your state laws. In some states, this situation would be legal. In others, it’s statutory rape. Know what’s permitted in your jurisdiction.
- Consider maturity levels. How much life experience does the 18-year-old have compared to the 17-year-old? Are they in the same school grade? The power imbalance may not be as problematic if they are close in maturity.
- Think long-term. Even if it seems okay now, how will you feel if the relationship progresses? Consider whether you may need to reevaluate the situation as time passes.
- Get parental consent. Ideally, the parents are supportive and you have their blessing. Lack of parental consent raises additional concerns.
There are no hard and fast rules here. It requires careful thought and consideration of all the nuances.
Can You Get in Trouble Years Later?
Here’s one more thing to be aware of. In many states, statutory rape has no statute of limitations. That means charges can be brought years or even decades after the fact.So that secret relationship you had with your high school girlfriend when you were 20 and she was 15? If her parents found out today, 15 years later, they could potentially file statutory rape charges.It’s an unsettling thought. Of course, most childhood sweethearts don’t face criminal charges down the road. But the possibility exists in many jurisdictions. It’s one more reason for adults to be very cautious about dating minors.
The Bottom Line
- Dating a minor is illegal in most circumstances. Know the age of consent laws in your state to understand what’s permissible.
- Be very wary of dating minors as an adult, even without sex. These relationships can lead to criminal charges.
- Work within your state’s Romeo and Juliet laws if you’re close in age to your partner. But tread carefully.
- Parents can forbid their minor children from dating adults and file restraining orders.
- There are huge ethical concerns with adult-minor relationships. Minors are vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.
- Consider maturity levels, parental consent, and long-term implications if dating someone close in age.
- Statutory rape charges could potentially be filed years down the road, even if the relationship seemed consensual.
Dating a minor is risky business across the board. The legal system aims to protect minors from predatory adults. If you’re an adult, the safest approach is to avoid romantic entanglements with minors altogether. The consequences simply aren’t worth it.
[This video] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3Xv_g3g-mA) provides a good overview of statutory rape and age of consent laws.[This article] (https://www.findlaw.com/legalblogs/law-and-life/is-it-legal-for-an-adult-to-date-a-minor/) from FindLaw goes into more detail on the complexities around adult-minor relationships.[Listen to this podcast episode] (https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/age-consent-sex-teens-states-us) discussing how states set age of consent laws.
For More Information:
- [Wikipedia page on ages of consent in the US] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ages_of_consent_in_the_United_States)
- [Overview of state statutory rape laws] (https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/statutory-rape-guide-state-laws-reporting-requirements-1) from the US Department of Health & Human Services.
- [RAINN’s age of consent resource] (https://www.rainn.org/state-state-guide-statutes-limitations) detailing laws in each state.
- [LegalMatch’s law library section] (https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/statutory-rape-the-age-of-consent.html) on statutory rape and age of consent.
- [NOLO’s overview] (https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/can-i-sue-if-past-sexual-partner-lied-about-age.html) on whether you can face charges for underage sex years later.
The laws around dating minors are complex. Take the time to understand what’s permitted in your state, and the risks involved, before pursuing an adult-minor relationship. Consult a lawyer if you need case-specific advice. When in doubt, stick to dating other adults. It’s the safest bet.