Legalities, a weekly column that appears in the Help section of the Southern Illinoisan, is a free service of the Self Help Legal Center. You can visit the Southern Illinoisan website at: http://www.southernillinoisan.com
Q: I was told that you shouldn't sell something to a minor because a minor cannot enter into a legal contract. Is that true? Does it matter if a certain amount of time has passed?
A: Not exactly.
Under Illinois law, a minor's contract is "voidable" at the minor's option. What this means is that unless the minor decides to "void" the contract, the contract can be enforced by either party, including the minor.
A minor can "void" a contract in one of two ways. The minor can either file a lawsuit to void the contract or, if it is the minor that is being sued, he/she can raise his or her minority status as a defense. Keep in mind that the minor can void the contract even if has been fully performed by both sides. The entire contract, not just parts, however, must be voided. Any showing of an unwillingness to be bound by the contract will suffice.
The ability of the minor to void a contract lasts until they reach the age of majority (18 in Illinois) and in some cases can actually last beyond this point in time. When a minor gives up his power to void a contract, it is called "ratification. " Ratification can only happen after a minor reaches the age of majority. Any showing of an intention to be bound by the original transaction will suffice as ratification.
If a minor decides to void a contract, he/she may have to pay what is called "restitution." Restitution could be paying for whatever benefit the minor received or it may be to return the goods that the minor received.
There is, however, one very large exception to the rules regarding the minor's ability to enter into a contract. If the purchase is for a "necessary" item, then the minor cannot void the contract.
Necessary items are defined as items that the minor needs. What the minor "needs", however, will vary depending upon the financial resources and economic situation of the minor and his/her parents. Food, for example, is often considered a necessary item. A car, however, would often be considered as not necessary. The problem is, if you are not sure whether the item you are selling (or buying) is a necessary item, there is not much you can do since a judge, not the parties to the contract, will make the final determination.