The law and your rights at home, work, and school

What legal resources are available in my area?
What is the age of majority?
What is an “emancipated minor”?
How old do I have to be to get social assistance (welfare)?
How old do I have to be to move away from home?
At what age can I get married without my parents’ permission?
My parents are getting divorced. Can I decide who I get to live with?
How old do I have to be to babysit?
How old do I have to be to drop out of school?

What legal resources are available in my area?

Kids Help Phone has contact information for legal resources across Canada, including:

  • Youth justice services (e.g. Justice for Children and Youth available in Ontario)
  • Legal aid and community law clinics (which often provide services for free or at a reduced cost)
  • The Office of the Children’s Advocate
  • Government services offices (for social services including financial assistance and other support programs)

Call us at 1-800 668-6868 to get the location of the service closest to you.
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What is the age of majority?

The “age of majority” is the age at which you are considered an adult under the law. Because different activities are regulated by federal, provincial, or special legislation, there are a few different ages of majority.

Federal age of majority

Federally, adulthood is reached at age 18. At this age, all Canadians:

  • can vote in elections
  • will be tried under the Criminal Code of Canada if they are accused of a crime

Regional age of majority

Each province and territory defines its own age of majority (either age 18 or 19).

The regional age of majority is 18 in: Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan

The regional age of majority is 19 in: British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Nova Scotia, Yukon

At this age, a young person:

  • can vote in provincial/territorial elections
  • will have the same legal rights and responsibilities as other adults


Restricted products: Some provinces have a different age of majority for buying “restricted products.” In these provinces, the regional age of majority is usually 18 but only those 19 or older are allowed to buy cigarettes and alcohol.

Special legislation: Some legislation contains different ages of majority. For example, most provinces have health legislation with a “mature minor” clause that allows a young person to consent to medical treatment (without needing a parent’s permission) before they reach the regional age of majority.

If you are concerned about your rights as either a minor or an adult, please contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. We can help you think through your questions.
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What is an “emancipated minor”?

The term “emancipated minor” typically means a young person under the age of majority who has undergone a legal process to become legally separate from their parents or guardians. Once “emancipated,” the parents or guardians no longer have any decision making power over the minor. They also are no longer financially responsible for the minor.

Depending on which province or territory in Canada you live in, legal emancipation may or may not exist. For example, in Ontario, there is no such thing as legal emancipation. In regions like Quebec where legal emancipation does exist, it is intended to deal with very particular situations. Generally, older teens who have shown they can handle responsibilities are emancipated.

If you are researching emancipation -- for whatever reason -- give us a call. While we can’t give legal advice, we can help you think through your particular situation and work with you to plan your next steps. We can also connect you with the Office of the Children's Advocate in your province/territory or a free legal clinic in your area for more information.
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How old do I have to be to get social assistance (welfare)?

The age at which a young person can get social assistance, or welfare, depends on what province you live in.

Most provinces and territories only provide financial support to adults. This means you can qualify for social assistance once you reach your regional age of majority. While some parts of Canada have social assistance programs for people between the age of 16 and the regional age of majority, they often have strict rules around who can access them (for example, recipients might be required to regularly attend school). This type of social assistance program for minors is typically administered through local child and family services.

If I get social assistance, what will it be like?

If you are eligible to receive social assistance, it’s important to keep in mind that the amount of money you get will be quite small.

Applying for social assistance, either through your provincial government or a child welfare agency, can be time-consuming and confusing. It’s a good idea to find an adult (for example, a social worker, teacher or youth worker) who can help you fill out paperwork, submit your application, and accompany you to any interviews or appointments.

If you need more information, try talking to your school guidance counsellor or a local youth-serving agency to find out about age-related restrictions in your area.

If you need a suggestion for which agencies can help you, or to just talk through your situation, you can always call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone. We’re here to help.

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How old do I have to be to move away from home?

Under federal law, parents are required to provide for their children until their 16th birthday. Some provinces also have laws that require parents to care for their children until the regional age of majority.

Depending on where you live, community-based services, like shelters or youth drop-ins, may be required to report you to child protection services if they know you have left home, (even, in some cases, if you are over the age of 16). In some areas, these types of community organizations are not allowed to provide services to young people under the age of 16. Because moving out is so difficult, and so much depends on various provincial laws, it’s a good idea to talk to a social worker or guidance counsellor to find out what the local restrictions are in your area.

Check out this short video on Leaving Home in Ontario

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At what age can I get married without my parents’ permission?

Young people are allowed to get married without their parents’ permission once they’ve reached their regional age of majority.

Getting married before your age of majority

  • If someone wants to get married before their age of majority, they will usually need a parent’s permission.
  • In some regions, young people may be able to get court-ordered permission for marriage without a parent’s consent.
  • Once a young person is married, they typically get the full legal rights and freedoms of adulthood, even though they are under the age of majority.

Is getting married early right for me?

Young people get married early for many different reasons: to raise a child, to leave a difficult situation at home, because they’re in love, or to stay in the country. Whatever the reason, deciding to get married is a big deal, and has social, financial and legal consequences. If you are thinking about getting married before you reach your age of majority, give us a call. We can help you sort out what is allowed in your region and which options you can consider in your situation.

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My parents are getting divorced. Can I decide who I get to live with?

If your parents are getting divorced or separated, you should have a say in where you live. Your parents and any social workers or lawyers should ask you about what living arrangements you prefer. Your parents and other adults involved in the decision may have an opinion about where you should live. Because one or both parents may need to relocate for work, have health issues, or need to get support from extended family, adults may encourage you to live with one parent instead of another. These adults often have your safety and happiness in mind, so consider what they have to say.

If your parents are getting divorced or separated and you are concerned about what is going to happen to you, you can always call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone.

   Separation, divorce and custody, Go

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How old do I have to be to babysit?

  • If you are 12 years old or over, you can babysit in Canada.
  • If you are 10 or 11, you may be allowed to babysit, but it depends on the region you live in. Ask an adult you trust to check for you.
  • If you are interested in babysitting, you may want to see if babysitting courses by organizations such as the Red Cross or St. John Ambulance are offered near you.
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How old do I have to be to drop out of school?

The age at which a young person can leave school depends on their age and the province in which they live. In most provinces, young people can leave school at age 16 (depending on when in the school year they turn 16), but in other parts of Canada they have to continue to attend until they graduate or turn 18 -- whichever comes first. Your guidance counsellor will be able to answer any questions you  have about leaving school, and can help you think through your options.

What will happen if I drop out?

Deciding to leave school early is a big deal, and it’s not something young people take lightly. Some common reasons young people drop out of school early are:

  • not liking or doing well at school
  • being constantly bullied and harassed
  • needing to support themselves or their families

Still, it can be difficult to get work and become independent without a high school education. Most regions have restrictions on the number of hours young people can work during school hours, so they may not be able to work full-time if they drop out. If you are considering leaving school early -- for whatever reason -- give us a call. We can help you explore your different options and refer you to resources in your area.


Last Reviewed September 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team
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