How old do you have to be to sign a contract?
A contract is legal — and therefore legally binding — if all the parties that signed it have contractual capacity.
In most countries, a person’s age of contractual capacity is usually the same as the age of majority or the age at which a person is no longer considered a child.
In practice, the age of the majority is usually 18.
Contractual capacity, or the capacity to contract, is the ability of a person to enter into a contract and therefore also refers to their responsibility to meet the obligations stated in it.
The contractual capacity might be related to other factors, as well.
For example, in the United States, three types of people do not have contractual capacity:
- Persons lacking mental capacity to understand the contract
- Intoxicated persons
What is the minimum legal contract age?
The minimum age at which a person can sign a contract is defined by state, national, or federal law and would therefore depend on the jurisdiction of the country or the state/province.
In most instances, the capacity to contract is reached at the age of majority, which is 18 in most countries.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, however.
This shouldn’t be confused with the age of maturity, voting age, age of consent, drinking age, driving age, the age at which a person might leave school, and so on.
These might be different and set independently from the country’s age of majority.
The age of majority in different countries
Let’s see what the age of the majority is in some countries and whether minors can sign a contract.
|Country||Age of majority||Can a minor sign a contract?|
|US||18, except for Alabama and Nebraska, where it’s 19||No, unless for essential items (food, medicine, medical services).|
|UK||18In Scotland, the age of majority is also 18, but the age of legal capacity is 16||No, unless for essential items (food, medicine, accommodation, clothing) or for employment, apprenticeship, or education, where they’re for the benefit of the person.|
|Canada||18 in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan 19 in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut||Yes, but in some situations the contract might be considered void.|
|Australia||18||Yes, but the terms of the contract are not enforceable for a minor. Can sign a contract for essential items.|
|Germany||18||Only with consent from a guardian.|
|Spain||18||No, unless a court approves it.|
|Italy||18||Yes, if it’s for the minor’s benefit.|
|Switzerland||18||Only with consent from a guardian.|
|The Netherlands||18||Only with consent from a guardian.|
|South Africa||18||Yes but might be considered void.|
|Sweden||18||Only with consent from a guardian.|
In all Member States of the EU, the age of majority is 18, as it is in practically the whole of Europe.
In Scotland, the age of legal capacity is 16, although the age of majority is still 18.
What happens if a minor signs a contract?
Minors don’t have contractual capacity, and the laws that define the age of contractual capacity (and maturity) are created to protect them.
In most countries, minors generally cannot sign a contract that will be upheld in court. In other words, that contract would be voidable.
In many countries, however, minors can sign a contract if their guardian consents to it.
This is mostly relevant if there’s a dispute.
After all, if both parties fulfill their obligations, in most instances, there won’t be any problem.
However, if the minor violates the contract’s terms, these might not be enforceable.
If the contract is oral and there were no actual signatures — for example, you agreed with your 16-year-old cousin that they’ll paint your house’s fence for a fee — it’s still voidable.
This means that a minor can disaffirm the contract, i.e. walk away from it. In most countries, they’d need to restore/return the other person’s money if they received any payment.
What is a void and voidable contract?
In the U.S., as in other countries, a contract signed with a minor is void and voidable. There’s a distinction between the two terms:
- A void contract is illegal and invalid from the start, which also means that it cannot be enforced
- A voidable contract can be kept as is and one or both parties could choose to enforce it
Contracts with minors are unenforceable and invalid. There are some exceptions, though.
In many countries, contracts for essential items or services, such as food, medicine, medical care, or housing, are not voidable, and the minor is liable for their part of the deal.
A car might also be considered a necessity in some instances.
Can a minor still sign a contract?
In most countries, you need to be of majority age to sign a contract.
However, if a minor obtains the consent of a guardian, in some countries, such as the U.S. among others, the contract is valid and enforceable.
If there was no guardian consent, the contract would likely be considered void and voidable in court.
In some countries, minors who have obtained emancipation from their guardians can also sign a contract.
When signing an online contract, you can use a contract management platform like PandaDoc to have all parties review the agreement, including the minor.
PandaDoc enables you to add different roles that you can use in the contract flow, meaning that all sides can see the document and add their comments.
Is age the only factor that makes a contract legally binding?
In some cases, even if the person has reached the legal age of majority, they still might not be able to sign a contract, f.e. in the case of mental illness or impairment.
This needs to be legally recognized by a court, and courts decide on a case-by-case basis.
In the U.S., as in other countries, an intoxicated person also doesn’t have contractual capacity.