This booklet covers areas of the law of interest to young people. We know we cannot answer all the questions you are likely to have, but we hope we have answered the important ones.
Because laws change, this booklet is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not attempt to provide legal advice. Legal advice should come only from a licensed attorney.
It is important to remember that regardless of your age, you have rights. This booklet helps explain those rights. Just knowing your rights is not enough — using your rights with common sense will help you get along even better.
Sit back and read. We hope that you find For the Record useful.
What happens to me if my parents get divorced?
Parents splitting up can be difficult for anybody. There are a number of decisions that affect children in a divorce. Will you have to move? Will you get to live with both parents? How much time will you get to see both parents? Will you get to live with your brothers and sisters? Generally, after a divorce children are placed in the "joint custody” of both parents. Sometimes children in a divorce are put in the custody of one parent with the other parent having visitation privileges or parenting time. A court will hear what each of your parents propose as a plan for their children’s future. If you are old enough, the judge may ask you what you want. In Kansas, some courts will use a mediator to settle some of these questions. The mediator may involve you in the mediation. You need to let your parents and the court know your views. Remember that the final decision made by the judge will be based upon what he or she believes is in your best interest.
In cases of divorce or separation, who decides who gets custody of the children?
Both parents can make this decision. However, the law requires that the parents’ agreement be approved by a court. If there is no agreement between the parents, the court will decide who gets custody. The court must decide what is in the best interest of the child. A stable home and school environment are an important part of the "best interest” standard. The court also considers what the parents want, and the relationship between each parent and the children. The children’s wishes may in some cases be a factor in the court’s decision. Courts prefer to let the parents decide custody; they are in a better position to make that decision than a judge who may be a stranger to the family.
How old must I be to get married?
You must be at least 18 years old to obtain a marriage license. However, there are situations where a license may be issued if you’re not 18. A judge may issue a license to a 15-year-old if the judge determines that the marriage is in the best interest of that person. A judge can also issue a license to a person who is 16 or 17 if both parents and any legal guardian consent. If the parents are dead and there’s no legal guardian, the judge can consent and issue the license.
How old do I have to be to handle my own affairs?
When you turn 18, you are considered an adult. You are also considered an adult if you are at least 16 and you are or have been married. At this point, you – not your parents – are legally accountable for your actions. If you are under 18 and want to handle your own affairs, you can consider requesting emancipation. Emancipation is the legal process in which a judge decides whether you are mature enough to handle your own personal and financial matters. This allows you to conduct business without any adult supervision or control. An emancipation proceeding is begun by filing a petition in the district court of the county where you live.
Are my parents responsible or liable for my actions?
Under Kansas law, parents are responsible for up to $5,000 for damages or injuries intentionally caused by their children under 18 who live with them. Parents can be held liable for more than $5,000 if the damages or injuries caused by their children are proven to have resulted from parental neglect. Parents may also be liable for damages or injuries caused by their children’s accidental or unintentional actions. Parents may also be held responsible to pay a civil penalty if their child shoplifts from a business.
My parents think I have a drug problem. Can they force me into treatment against my will?
Parents have a responsibility to provide appropriate medical treatment for their children. A parent can take you to a doctor for assessment and treatment regardless of your consent. However, you can consent to treatment for drug abuse or addiction without parental notice or consent.
What if I know someone is being abused or neglected?
Immediately contact a teacher, school nurse, or police officer. You can also call the abuse hotline at 1-800-922-5330. You are protected when you report suspected abuse or neglect. You may also report anonymously (without giving your name), but giving your name will assist in the investigation.
Is it illegal to makeout, hook up, or have sex with someone younger than 18?
Maybe. It depends upon the sexual activity and the age of the participants. For example, it’s illegal to have sexual intercourse or touch someone sexually without their consent. Sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14 is also illegal. Sexual activity when the victim is 14 or 15 is illegal even if the victim consents. While navigating the legal restrictions regarding sexual activity and minors is difficult, in general, sexual activity between consenting persons who are 16 or older will most likely not violate state law.
If I'm in trouble ...
What is a juvenile offender and a child in need of care?
Juvenile offenders are young persons between the ages of 10 and 18 years who have committed a criminal offense. A child in need of care (CINC) is a person under 18 who is without parental care, truant, or has been abused or neglected. Truancy includes any child that is not attending school as required by law. The district/county attorney or any interested/concerned person in the county where the child resides may file a CINC case. If the district/county attorney files the case, it is generally after a case is referred by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Will a lawyer be appointed to represent me as a juvenile?
Yes. In a CINC case, an attorney is appointed for you. The attorney is called a "guardian ad litem.” The guardian ad litem represents you and determines your best interests. In short, what is best for you may not be what you want or believe is best. Generally, the guardian ad litem will meet with you to discuss the case and what the recommendations will be. After the case is filed, your parents (or person with whom you reside) will be served with notice requiring them to come to court.
The court has a number of options available in CINC cases and its decision generally depends on the individual facts of the case. If there has been physical abuse or neglect, the court may remove you from your home and place you with other family members or in a foster home. If the allegations involve truancy, the court will order you to attend school and may require the school to report your school attendance to the court. If the truancy is ongoing, the court may remove you from your home.
What is juvenile court?
Juvenile court is the system that has been established to deal with young persons who have committed certain crimes. The juvenile courts are less formal than an adult criminal proceeding, but no less serious. Like an adult proceeding, you have the right to be tried by a jury rather than a judge. However, it is the district court judge who decides the punishment if you’re found guilty.
What happens if I get arrested?
Any young person suspected of committing a crime could be arrested by the police. No warrant is required, but the officer is required to have probable cause to make the arrest. All youths are taken to the juvenile intake and assessment center where an initial judgment regarding detention is made and the child’s parents are notified (yes, they call your parents). In very serious matters, the juvenile may be taken directly to a juvenile detention facility until a hearing is held in front of a judge.
You and your parents will be notified in writing of the charges against you and are given notice of the time you must appear before the court. At the appearance before the court, the complaint against you will be read to you, and the judge will ask your parents whether they will hire an attorney for you or whether the judge should appoint one. You are entitled to have an attorney in a juvenile offender case.
If you are over 14 and you violate the traffic laws or you are over 16 and violate the boating/fishing/hunting laws, you’ll be treated the same as an adult and will most likely be given a citation and expected to appear in court or pay a fine.
What are my rights when arrested?
In addition to an attorney, you are entitled to those protections provided under the Bill of Rights if the charge is one that could result in confinement. In such situations, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, no double jeopardy (you cannot be tried twice for the same offense), the right to confront witnesses, reasonable search and seizure, the privilege against self-incrimination, and protection against forced confessions. If you are under 14 and you are being interrogated by a law enforcement officer, nothing you say is admissible as evidence unless your parent or attorney has been consulted.
What are the consequences of shoplifting?
It is a crime to shoplift, no matter how small the item. Many retailers prosecute even the smallest offense.
Do I have a curfew?
In Kansas there is no statewide curfew for minors. However, individual cities and counties may establish set times that individuals must abide by (generally, 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends). If a person is found violating a curfew law by being out of their house at a certain time, they may be subject to a fine or other punishment.
What are the laws about smoking and using drugs?
In Kansas, it is against the law for any person to possess, manufacture, distribute, or cultivate controlled substances. This includes marijuana and other types of illegal drugs as well as any drug paraphernalia (pipes, papers etc.). Additionally, it is illegal to possess prescription drugs that are not prescribed to you.
In Kansas, you must be 18 to use tobacco products of any kind including cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Punishment for a tobacco infraction may include a fine.
What are the laws about drinking and driving?
The legal age to drink is 21. It is against the law to drink and drive with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, or to have imbibed enough to impair your ability to safely operate a vehicle. If you’re under 21, it is against the law to drink and drive with an alcohol concentration of 0.02 or more. Even if you do not test positive for alcohol, you may still be found guilty if you are too impaired to drive safely. The consequences of driving under the influence include suspension of driving privileges for at least 30 days and restriction for an additional 330 days on the first occurrence and suspension of driving privileges for one year on a second occurrence. If you test 0.08 or greater, your license will be suspended for one year and any actions taken against your driving privileges may be considered by an insurance company in determining rates for liability insurance or whether to cancel your insurance policy.
What happens if I get caught drinking?
You must be 21 or older to buy, possess, or drink beer and liquor. A person under 21 who drinks, possesses, or attempts to obtain or possess alcoholic beverages is subject to a fine. If you’re over 18 but less than 21, the minimum fine is $200. If you’re under 18, you can be fined between $200 and $500. In addition, the court may order you to complete 40 hours of community service as well as a program on the effects of alcohol and substance abuse. Additionally, you will have your driving privileges suspended for 30 days upon a first conviction, 90 days for a second offense, and one year for a third offense.
It is a misdemeanor for a person under 21 to use a fake driver’s license to purchase alcohol. If you use a fake driver’s license or other fake ID to obtain alcohol, you may be fined $200 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. In addition, the court may order you to complete an approved alcohol or drug education program.
If you get caught drinking alcohol when you are under 21, you are also jeopardizing those who helped you get the alcohol. Anyone who furnishes alcohol to an underage person is subject to a minimum fine of $200. Anyone who lends a driver’s license to an underage person for use in buying alcohol is subject to a jail term of up to one year, a fine of $2,500, or both. Underage persons who purchase alcoholic beverages from licensed outlets are also jeopardizing the owner’s livelihood. Any licensed outlet that sells alcoholic beverages to an underage person could have its license revoked or suspended and could also face criminal charges.
What are the consequences of using someone’s car/truck without permission?
It’s illegal to "borrow” someone’s car or truck without permission. On the first conviction, you will be sentenced to at least 30 days and fined $100. If convicted a second time, the sentence jumps to 60 days and the fine increases to $200. Furthermore, a conviction for vehicle related crimes might affect your personal liability insurance rate.
Do I have to wear my seatbelt while in the car?
Yes, Kansas law requires all individuals over the age of 14 to wear seatbelts while a car is in motion. This includes occupants sitting in the back seat. If you are given a ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt, you may be fined up to $60.
Can I text while I drive?
No. If you can’t wait to read or respond to a text, pull off the road so that you’re out of traffic.
Am I old enough to ...
How old must I be to get a job? What laws apply to me?
If under 14, you may not take jobs in certain trades or businesses, but you may take domestic jobs, such as babysitting, mowing lawns, and delivery work. If between the ages of 14 and 17, you may not take jobs that are hazardous such as factory or manufacturing jobs. If you are 14, you can work in offices, grocery stores, and restaurants. If under 16, in school, and working in certain jobs (such as fast food restaurants), you may not work before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. on a school night. You also may not work more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours a week. There are exceptions, such as work-study programs or school food preparation services.
How do the child labor laws affect me?
Kansas law limits the age, hours of employment, and the hazards of children who are employed. In addition, most youth are employed part time. Many employment restrictions only apply to full-time employees. In most situations, you will be employed "at will” and can be fired at any time for no reason. All federal laws that affect your civil rights or disability rights apply to young people as well as adults. You have the right to make minimum wage although your employer can consider tips as part of your wage. And congratulations, you also get to pay taxes just like adults.
Can I receive medical treatment without my parent’s consent?
Parental consent is usually necessary for a doctor to perform medical, hospital, or surgical treatment. However, there are exceptions to that rule. For example, if no parent or guardian is immediately available, a youth of 16 may consent to his or her own treatment. Also, an unmarried pregnant girl of any age may consent to medical treatment relating to the pregnancy if the parents are not immediately available. If you are under the age of 18 and want an abortion, the law requires that notarized written consent be given by both of your parents or a legal guardian. Single parent consent may be acceptable in situations where the parents are divorced or sexual abuse by a family member has occurred. However, if you can’t get written consent from both parents, you, or an adult on your behalf, can go to the district court and ask for a waiver. The judge can appoint an attorney to help you, at no cost. The court proceeding is confidential and your identity won’t be revealed. After the judge listens to you, he or she will decide whether you understand and are mature enough to make the decision or that parental consent would not be in your best interest. Youth under 18 may also obtain contraception and consent to examination and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without consent from their parents. Health care providers may also provide immediate assistance in emergency situations without obtaining parental consent.
Can I get a tattoo or a body piercing?
Not without permission from your parent or guardian. Kansas law says that "no person shall perform body piercing or tattooing on or to any person under 18 years of age without the prior written and notarized consent of the parent or court appointed guardian of such person. The person giving such consent must be present during the body piercing or tattooing procedure.”
How old must I be to buy a gun?
It depends on what kind of gun you want to buy. To buy a rifle or shotgun you must be at least 18 years of age and to buy a handgun you must be at least 21 years of age.
What do I need to know about social media?
Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, and Instagram, are common everyday aspects of a teen’s life. It is important to keep in mind privacy and safety when using social media and technology. First, remember to never post personal information or share private information with strangers or people you have never met in person. Be careful not to reveal your telephone number, email address, or home address to strangers that you might meet online. Remember that, nothing that is public can be private at the same time.
It is also important to remember that what goes online, stays online. That means forever. Think about future employers, family members, teachers, and friends being able to see every picture, status update, or post that you put online. If you would not feel comfortable explaining something that you post online to your parents, school principal, or potentially the police, then it is best to keep it off of social media.
Your local school district may also have policies that prohibit the use of cell phones during instructional time and prohibit any use of social media that is disruptive to the educational environment. Kansas law also prohibits sexting and using a cell phone or electronic device to threaten or harass someone.
What if I bring a gun or weapon to school?
The Federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 requires expulsion of pupils for possession of weapons at school. Expulsion is for a period of not less than one calendar year for any pupil that brings a weapon into school, on school property, or to a school sponsored event. Also, the school is required to notify the appropriate state and local law enforcement agencies. The school principal may modify the expulsion requirement in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of federal law.
What if I hurt someone at school or at a school activity?
If you bring a gun to school or to a school activity or you do something that could cause or actually harms another person, the school will report the incident to law enforcement and your parent(s)/guardian will be notified. You also could lose your driver’s license for one year.
What if someone else brings a weapon to school?
Tell your teacher, principal, or any other school employee immediately.
What do I do if there is a bully at school?
Bullying happens every day in schools throughout the country. Bullies might pick on people for any number of reasons, including the way they look, act, or because of their race or religion. None of these reasons are acceptable. If you experience bullying or feel threatened or afraid while at school, talk to a teacher, faculty member, parent, or another adult. Cyberbullying or the use of electronic means to threaten or harass another person is also a problem. If you experience cyberbullying, whether in school or outside of school, be sure to notify a teacher, parent, or another adult.
Can my parent oppose my taking certain school classes?
Kansas law provides that children may not be required to take part in activities that may violate their religious beliefs. However, the law does not provide this exemption for course work. Regulations of the Kansas State Department of Education provide that parents may choose not to have their children participate in mandatory sex education programs. Other religious exceptions may be recognized by court decision.
Are disabled students given any rights?
Federal law requires schools to consider a child’s disability when making decisions regarding the child’s education. If a child is eligible, he or she must have an individualized educational plan (IEP) prepared. A child or his or her parent may request that a special education assessment be completed.
Are student publications entitled to free speech protection?
It depends. Kansas law states that "the liberty of the press in student publications shall be protected ... [and] material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.” However, any publication that is "libelous, slanderous, or obscene or matter that commands, requests, induces, encourages, commends, or promotes conduct that is defined by law as a crime or conduct that constitutes a ground or grounds for the suspension or expulsion of students ... or which creates a material or substantial disruption of the normal school activity is not protected by [state law].”
Can I attend the public school of my choice?
Not always. School districts are required to enroll students who live within the school district’s boundaries and may enroll out of district students if space and resources are available but they are not required to, it is a local school board decision. Children may attend the school district in which they reside. School boards determine which specific school within a district you can attend. Attendance in a district other than that of residence is up to the receiving district. Attendance in a building other than the one assigned is up to the local school boards.
How many years must I stay in school?
Unless approved by the court, children between the ages of 7 and 18 must attend a public or private school. If you have been identified as having a disability and are entitled to receive special services, you must remain in school until you’re 21. Some school districts have specialized programs that allow students to go to school and also work during school time. There are alternative schools that have specialized policies or curriculum like a technical school.
What if I don’t want to go to school?
The general rule is you have to attend school until the age of 18 unless you are 16 or 17 and your parent or guardian agrees that you don’t have to attend school. This is called "signing out” of school. Otherwise, schools must check to find out why you are not in school. Your parents may be held responsible for your not attending school. You may be allowed to be "home schooled” or sent to a private school approved by the state.
What happens if I skip school?
You are required to attend school. This will have a major impact on your future, and it certainly will affect your parents or guardian because they will be held responsible. The courts can be involved if you continually miss school, and your parent or guardian does not or is unable to get you back in school. Eventually, you might end up in court custody. The court would then have to decide where you would be placed so that you do attend school.
If a student misses, without excuse, three consecutive days, five days in a semester, or seven days in a school year, the school must notify your parents. The school will also notify the Department for Children and Families if you are under 13, and the county or district attorney if you are over 13.
Can my school tell me what I can or cannot wear?
A public school district can establish a dress code that you will have to follow. In some school districts, strict dress codes have been implemented when the district believes young people’s disputes about clothes conflict with a good education or create discipline or safety concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that some dress can be considered a form of symbolic speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, your clothes cannot materially or substantially disrupt the normal educational process or harm the rights of others.
Can my school discipline me?
Schools have broad authority to discipline students to ensure appropriate student conduct and to create a safe and orderly learning environment for all students. Each school has rules that you are expected to follow and will also identify consequences for infractions. Generally, this will mean suspension or being expelled. Kansas laws allow school districts to discipline students for violation of seven general areas of misbehavior by imposing a short term suspension of up to 10 days or a 90-day extended term suspension or expulsion for 186 days.
Physical discipline is not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, but local school policies may limit it. You are subject to school district policies, and federal and state laws while attending school. Schools also can use appropriate force to break up fights and prevent other forms of violence. If you do something in school, on school property, or at a school activity that causes or could cause serious injury to another person, the school will apply their discipline policies and report the incident to law enforcement, as well as your parent(s)/guardian.
Can school officials search my locker?
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a school official may conduct a locker search if there is a "reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed, or that a school rule has been broken. Reasonable suspicion may depend upon such variables as your previous school record, who or what was the source of information, the time and place, and your age. School officials also have the authority to use drug dogs to search lockers.
Can school officials search me if they suspect I have drugs?
Probably. If a school official has a "reasonable suspicion” to believe that the student is engaged in illegal activity, then they can likely search your locker or your person. However, the search measures used by school officials must be "reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 129 S. Ct. 2633 (2009)
Can I pray at school?
Yes. Individuals can pray at school, but there cannot be school-sponsored prayer in public schools. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has been repeatedly interpreted to mean that there is to be no state-sponsored religious exercises. Public schools may not advance or endorse one religion over another, or endorse religion in general. There can be a moment of silent contemplation, which does not have any religious tone. Kansas law states that "no sectarian or religious doctrines shall be taught or inculcated in any of the public schools of a city,” but the laws do not prohibit the reading of the Holy Scriptures, although the reading has to be done without note or comment.
Several members of the KBA Law Related Education Committee and students in the Pro Bono Program at the Washburn University School of Law provided the updating and editing of this publication. In addition, the KBA appreciates the assistance of Donna Whitman at the Kansas Association of School Boards. The KBA wishes to thank all individuals involved and a special thank you to the Kansas Bar Foundation for supporting law-related education projects and publications.