Contracts Made by Minors
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Alison Ward in August 2018.|
In British Columbia, different rules apply to contracts made with minors, defined as someone who is under the age of 19.
- Client under 19 years of age wants advice about getting credit.
- Client wants to know what rights there are for suing a person under age 19.
- Client wants to know if they will be responsible, as a guarantor, for the credit contracts of a person under age 19.
- Client or client’s parents want to know about suing or defending a court case where client is under age 19.
Summary of the law
BC’s Age of Majority Act defines anyone under the age of 19 as an “infant” (or a “minor”). There are a number of differences, both in common law and statute law, between the rights and responsibilities of children and those of adults. These differences reflect the notion that minors need greater legal protection than adults in diverse matters, ranging from consenting to medical treatment to entering into credit contracts. In some instances, the differences involve complex principles of law. This section focuses specifically on contracts made by minors (contracts made with people under the age of 19) and, briefly, on the rules for minors using the court system.
In 1985, the BC legislature amended the sections of the Infants Act dealing with infants’ contracts. Prior to the amendments, the Infants Act made most sales and credit contracts involving infants “void”. The old BC legislation was based on long-standing British law. However, the old legislation was fairly inflexible and was often as much a hardship for the adult dealing with the minor as it was protection for the child. Current BC law presumes that contracts made by a minor are unenforceable against (but not by) the minor with the following exceptions:
- Where enforceability is specifically allowed by other statutes.
- Where the minor affirms (confirms), performs or partially performs the contract (for example, makes payments under the contract) within one year after turning 19.
- Where the minor does not repudiate (cancel in writing) the contract within one year after turning 19.
Even if the contract is unenforceable against the minor because the exceptions do not apply, there may still be a remedy for either side, depending on the circumstances. Under section 20 of the Infants Act, either side can apply to the court for a remedy, including payment of compensation, return of property, or discharge of the contract (see the section on Contract Remedies). When making such an order, the court considers all the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract.
According to section 23 of the Infants Act, a guarantor to a contract made by a minor is liable on (responsible for) the guarantee regardless of whether the contract is enforceable against the minor.
Children and court procedure
In general, the minor must bring or defend an action through an adult (usually a parent) appointed as a litigation guardian. According to Supreme Court Rule 20-2(2), the minor cannot bring the action alone. Small Claims Rule 17(18) makes Supreme Court Rule 20-2(2) applicable to proceedings in Small Claims Court. When someone brings an action against a minor in either court, the court papers are served on a parent or guardian, rather than the minor.
In addition to gathering and confirming all information on the financial circumstances of the client, including income and expenses, assets and debts, and future prospects for changes in income, check for guarantors in credit contracts made by minors who are clients. It may be that the creditor has obtained a guarantee from a parent or other responsible individual as part of extending credit to the minor. (See the section on Co-signing, Guarantees and Joint Debts.)
Solving the problem
Clients under 19 who have consumer or credit questions will probably want to know:
- what the procedures are in either Small Claims Court or Supreme Court, and
- what their rights and responsibilities are under credit contracts.
Related topics and materials
See the other sections under contracts:
See related topics:
See also People’s Law School’s pages on contracts.
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