ISTOCK IMAGE ID 21452491Your 18th birthday is an exciting and fulfilling event. Turning 18 opens up a world of new opportunities for California teens, including the ability to vote, the ability to enter into binding contracts, and the freedom to live or work how you choose.

However, turning 18 also comes with serious legal implications. Once you are legally an adult, the law will treat you as such—which is not necessarily a good thing. Here’s a look at the various legal issues that come with adulthood:

The Age of Majority

According to California Family Code Section 6500, California residents become adults on their 18th birthday, known as the “age of majority.” Turning 18 allows teenagers the right to:

  • Enter into legally binding contracts
  • Buy or sell property, including stocks and real estate
  • Marry without written consent of parents, guardians, or a judge
  • Sue or be sued
  • Compromise, settle, or arbitrate a claim
  • Make or revoke a will
  • Inherit property outright
  • Vote in national, state, and local elections
  • Consent to all types of medical treatment
  • Join the military without parental consent

Turning 18 gives you plenty of new rights, but it also causes you to lose some. First of all, you lose the right to your parents’ support, care, and shelter when you become a legal adult. You also lose the right to treatment in the juvenile court system and lose protection against exploitation and harmful employment conditions. (However, of course, there are regulatory agencies like the Occupational Health and Safety Administration that govern safe workplaces for adults.)

Juvenile vs. Adult Court Proceedings

The juvenile court system is very different from the court system designed for adults. The juvenile system places a heavier emphasis on rehabilitation and helping the accused get back on the right path. This may include a period of time in juvenile detention, where the conditions are much better than a state prison. It is common for a juvenile offender to go through the juvenile court process, spend time in a juvenile detention center, and have the record sealed after turning 18.

Juvenile defendants do not have all the same Constitutional rights as adult defendants, nor do they face the same penalties. When tried as an adult, the process—and the punishment—is more intense. Juvenile offenders who are at least 14 years old can be tried in adult court for particularly serious crimes, including:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Setting fire to a building with people in it
  • Robbery with a weapon
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Carjacking
  • Crimes involving firearms
  • Drug crimes
  • Escaping from a juvenile detention facility

For less-serious offenses, juvenile offenders will most likely go through the juvenile court system. However, once you turn 18, the adult court system is your only option. Offenses that might only earn you a slap on the wrist in juvenile court (i.e. trespassing or vandalism) can come with serious consequences in the adult court system, including probation, hefty fines, or even jail time.