Vail Daily column: Now that you’re 18 …
Editor’s note: This is the fifth part of a six-part series.
On turning 18, your rights and legal obligations change regarding matters revolving about sex, partnership and marriage.
What is recited here is intended to be general in nature and does not dwell upon the specifics of Colorado law. It is intended, instead, to summarize the law generally and to emphasize what is common among the majority of states.
When you turn 18, you no longer need your parents’ consent to marry. OK, then, beside the old cliches, what exactly is marriage? Marriage is presumed to be a lifelong contract which, as of this week’s Supreme Court decision, is between a man and a woman, a man and man, or a woman and a woman. It is a legal commitment to be married partners with all obligations, rights and responsibilities attendant with such institution. In some states, you must get married by a ceremonial marriage (that is, before 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, absent a ceremonial marriage so long as the parties each manifest a present intent to be as husband and wife and hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife). In most states, in order to be married, you must obtain a marriage license from the state. Colorado recognizes common law marriage but, a word to the wise, although you can get married by common law, if you one day decide to get divorced, then you cannot get common law divorced. Instead, you have to march through the same court procedures as if you had gotten formally married.
COMMUNITY PROPERTY LAWS
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 prenuptial (“pre-nup” or “pre-marital”) 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), or encompass criminal behavior or agreements. Neither can it dictate how children who may one day be the product of the marriage will be treated. It is almost always a good idea for each of the parties to obtain independent legal counsel to represent them when crafting a prenuptial agreement. Marital agreements can also often be entered into after marriage, in which event they are commonly known as “post-nuptial” agreements.
In the event the marriage ultimately goes south, all states provide for the vehicle of divorce. In most states, modern divorce is “no fault,” in other words 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,” in other words, the couple simply can no longer get along. If you decide to divorce, even if you were married by common law, then you will need to prosecute a formal divorce through the courts of the jurisdiction in which you live. If there are kids involved, even if you should divorce, you remain responsible for their welfare and support until each child reach the age of majority (in some states, this means attainment of the age of 18, in others, through the end of the 18th year).
‘NO’ MEANS NO
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 statutory rape 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, then the crime charged will likely be a felony. Non-consensual intimate touching for sexual gratification or arousal may be construed to be 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”). To ply them on another 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 womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/date-rape-drugs.html.
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 with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.