Vail Law: Love, sex, marriage and turning 18
Vail, CO, Colorado
On turning 18, your rights and legal obligations change regarding matters of sex, partnership and marriage.
As in previous parts of this series about the obligations of adulthood, this is intended to be general in nature.
When you turn 18, you no longer need your parents’ consent to marry. But what exactly is marriage? Marriage is presumed to be a life-long contract which, in most places, is between a man and a woman (although same-sex unions are now recognized in some states). Marriage is a contract to be partners with all the obligations, rights and responsibilities attendant with such institution.
In some states, you must get married by a judge, justice of the peace, religious leader, or some other person invested by the state with the authority to bestow marriage upon others. In other states, you can become married by “common law” – that is, two people manifest a present intent to be husband and wife and hold themselves out to the public as such. In most states, in order to be married, you must obtain a marriage license from the state.
Yours, mine, ours
A minority of states have “community property” laws. Most do not. Community property, in the states that recognize it, consists of the assets and wages earned or obtained by either party to the marriage during the marriage. Both parties have equal ownership and control over the community property in a marriage. Property which is not “community” is “separate.” Generally, anything which belonged to either party before the marriage or which is inherited by, or gifted to, a party during the marriage is considered separate property.
A pre-nuptial agreement is a contract into which you and your intended can enter prior to marriage wherein you determine, in advance, what your rights and obligations to one another will be during the marriage and/or in the event of a divorce. Although a pre-nup agreement can change certain rights between a couple, it cannot violate public policy, such as leaving one spouse or the other destitute in the event of a divorce. It is almost always a good idea for each of the parties to obtain independent legal counsel to represent them when crafting a pre-nuptial agreement.
Marital agreements can also often be entered into after marriage, in which event they are common know as “post-nuptial” agreements.
In the event a marriage ultimately goes south, all states provide for divorce. In most states, modern divorce is “no fault,” – that is, the reasons for the divorce to not attach fault or opprobrium on one spouse or the other for his or her bad behavior. The most common grounds for modern divorce is “irreconcilable differences.”
If you decide to split up, even if you were married by common law, you will need to pursue a formal divorce through the courts of the jurisdiction in which you live. If there are kids involved, you remain responsible for their welfare and support until each child reach the age of majority.
At age 18, having sex with anyone under the age of 18, even if consensual (unless that person is your spouse), may constitute a crime. You could, in fact, be charged with statutory rape although the specifics of what constitutes that offense vary slightly from state to state.
Sexual assault and battery against you is any type of sexual activity to which you did not (or could not) consent. Sexually assaulting another (or assisting in a sexual assault even if you didn’t do the actual assaulting) is a crime. If the assault was conducted with the intent to commit rape or other sexual penetration, the crime charged will likely be a felony. Non-consensual intimate touching for sexual gratification or arousal may be construed as sexual battery and may (or may not, depending upon the jurisdiction) be construed to be a misdemeanor.
Date rape is a species of sexual assault. Date or no date, friendship, dating partner, or even marriage does not protect you against forcing sex upon another. Simply, “no” is no when it comes to sex.
There are generally three types of “date rape” drugs: Gamma Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB); Ketamine hydrochloride (Ketamine) and Flunitrazepam (“Rohypnol”). Giving any of these to another person is illegal.
If you are a woman, you would be wise to take care against them being used to spike your drinks. For ways to protect yourself go to http://www.4woman.gov (click on “violence”, then “dating violence”, then, under “publications”, click on “frequently asked questions – date rape drugs”).
In many states if you or your partner becomes pregnant with an unwanted child, you can drop the child off at a safe surrender site within 72 hours of the child’s birth, no questions asked. Generally, such safe drop-off sites are hospitals and fire stations. Clearly, you could also give the child up for adoption. There are many, many couples waiting to adopt.
In the next part of this series, we will consider the adult obligations of citizenship, criminal and civil law.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECO TV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins can be reached at 970-926-4461 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.