Canadian Legal FAQs

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Family

At what age can I decide which parent I want to live with?

There is no specific age at which you can decide where you want to live. The answer to this depends on your situation.

Generally, the courts may seek a child’s opinion when the child is 12 or older. There have been some cases in which the child’s opinion was considered when the child was under 12. It depends on the emotional maturity of the child. This is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which gives a child capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views in matters that affect him/her. Usually when a child is about 14-17, the child’s opinion about where he/she wants live will be one of the most important factors for the court to consider in the decision-making process.

Even if the child’s opinion is sought, however, it is not necessarily true that the wishes of the child will be honoured by the judge. The judge will make a determination based on all of the evidence presented to him/her.

At what age must adults get my consent before they can adopt me?

Age 12. Also, if you are aged 12 or older, you are entitled to be heard, in person or by counsel, at the hearing before the court.

This is governed by the Alberta Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

At what age must adults get my consent before they can change my name?

Age 12. You can only change you name yourself once you are over 18.

This is governed by the Alberta Change of Name Act.

At what age can I start searching for my biological parent(s)?

Age 18.

For more information about how to do that, see: Service Alberta > Adoption Information from the list of Additional Resources.

You may also find information on Alberta Human Services > Children and Youth > Adoption Records from the list of Additional Resources.

At what age can I be left alone at home?

In Alberta, there is no law that specifies an age at which a child can be left alone at home. There is, however, a “safety test” in the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. Specifically, if the child's safety is endangered by being left alone, that child may be considered neglected.

If a child is in an “unsafe” situation, a child welfare caseworker has the ability to investigate and take action to ensure the child is protected. The caseworker would need to consider such matters as the child’s maturity, knowledge, responsibilities, or resources, as well as the length of time, frequency, and degree of isolation involved when he/she was left alone at home.

It is also interesting to note that the Alberta Safety Council will not give a child a babysitting course diploma before age 12.

How old do I have to be to leave home?

It depends.

The transition period from childhood to adulthood requires a complex balance of ensuring adequate protection and allowing for increasing independence. This means that the law in this area is also complex. That being the case, the laws governing protective services for minors generally recognize that there is a different type of service required for older children than for younger ones. Therefore, it is common for government services across Canada, including Alberta, to distinguish between services to children and services to youth aged 16 – 18.

For more information, contact: Alberta Human Services, Children and Youth > Local Offices from the list of Additional Resources.

A simplified summary is as follows:

Starting Point

It is incorrect to say that it is not “legal” to leave home prior to 18 or even 16. No one gets fined, or punished, for leaving home before a certain age. The difference is that: if an 18-year-old gets apprehended, she is responsible for herself. If someone under 18 (or under 16 without one of the agreements listed below) gets apprehended, someone else will be brought in and be responsible (such as a parent, a guardian, or children’s services).

When children live away from home and receive services from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, a government system takes on roles and responsibilities normally carried out by parents and extended family members. In Alberta, children and youth receiving services under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act (Enhancement Act) and the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (PSECA) are entitled to the assistance of an advocate from the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

18 and Over

Once you are 18 you can leave home – you have reached the age of majority and are legally responsible for yourself.

16-18 Years Old

If you are between 16 and 18, and you are at risk when at home, you can make a Custody Agreement for Youth with Alberta Children and Youth Services. Under this option, if you cannot live safely at home you can sign a voluntary agreement, called a custody agreement, with a caseworker. The youth and the caseworker will develop a plan that includes where the youth will live and what financial support will be provided.

For more information, contact: Alberta Human Services, Children and Youth > Local Offices from the list of Additional Resources, and ask about a Custody Agreement with Youth

Under 16

Children younger than 16 who attempt to leave home are likely to eventually find themselves either returned home or taken into the care of government social services (but not necessarily). Someone else must be brought in to be responsible (such as a parent, a guardian, or children’s services).

For more information, see: Alberta Human Services, Children and Youth > Child Intervention from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be before I can enter into an adult interdependent relationship?

There are two ways to enter into an adult interdependent relationship (AIR): by written agreement, or by the occurrence of certain events. However, no one can ever have an AIR with someone who is related to them by blood or adoption.

You can enter in to an AIR agreement as early as age 16, if you have your parent’s consent. Otherwise, you must be 18 years of age.

Sometimes you do not have enter into an AIR agreement to be considered an adult interdependent partner (AIP). If you live with a partner for over 3 years in a relationship of interdependence (which means you are emotionally committed to each other, you share each other’s lives, and you share financial responsibilities), then you are an adult interdependent partner.

If you live with a partner and have a child, then you are also considered to be an adult interdependent partner. If there is a child of the relationship, you do not have to live with the partner for 3 years to be considered adult interdependent partners, but you must have lived in a relationship of some permanence. For example, if Lesley and Pat are both 17, have a child, have lived together for eight months, and are in a relationship of interdependence, then Lesley and Pat are adult interdependent partners.

How old do I have to be to get married?

If you are 18, you can marry without your parents’ permission.

If you are 16 or 17, you can marry if you have your parents’ permission or a court order allowing you to marry.

If you are under age 16, you cannot marry. The only exception to this is females who are under 16 and either pregnant or already have a child. You must have a doctor’s certificate confirming the situation before you can marry. The rules that apply to solemnization of marriage within Alberta are governed by Alberta`s Marriage Act.

A wedding ceremony requires witnesses. Witnesses to a marriage ceremony must be at least 18 years of age.

For more information on the legal requirements involved in getting married, see: Government of Alberta > Getting Married from the list of Additional Resources.

How old do I have to be to rent my own apartment?

The general rule is that persons under the age of majority can only enter into certain kinds of contracts. However, an exception is made for items that are considered to be “necessities of life”. This includes shelter. Therefore, as long as you understand the implications of signing the contract for the lease, you can sign it.

That said, the younger you are, the more likely a landlord will be to be hesitant to have you sign a lease. It is also worth noting that, for the purposes of accommodation and tenancy, the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act does not include “age” as a reason for which a landlord may not discriminate (in other words, a landlord may refuse on the basis of age).

If you are between 16 and 18, and you are at risk when at home, you can make a Custody Agreement for Youth with Alberta Children and Youth Services. Under this option, you and the caseworker will develop a plan that includes where you will live and what financial support will be provided.

For more information, contact: Alberta Human Services, Children and Youth – Local Offices from the list of Additional Resources, and ask about a Custody Agreement with Youth



This page was last updated in November 2010.


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