Getting serious

  • Your rights when you’re under 18 are all about protecting you so you can grow and develop healthily
  • You have a right to privacy, but a lot of what you can do in a relationship depends on what the law – and your parents – say until you’re 18
  • If you’re being forced into a relationship, or to do something you don’t want, you should be protected

Having a relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend is a special thing. When you’re under 18, and want to get serious with someone, you might feel like the rights that are there to protect you are actually making things difficult for you. You have a right to privacy, but your children’s rights give your parents (or the people with parental responsibility for you) the role of looking after you and guiding you until you’re 18.  This means that you might have to get your parents’ permission to do some of the things you want to do – and also that you can get into trouble for doing some things if you’re not at a certain age.

You can have sex legally as long as you’re 16. If you’re under 16 (but over 12) and your partner is a similar age, and you both want to have sex, you will be breaking the law, but it will be up to the police to decide whether to take any action if they find out about what is happening. The police may decide not to take any action, but your parents may be concerned about you having sex at this age. Find out more on our Sex and consent page.

You should only have sex with someone if it’s what you want to do – so if you are worried or not sure, you should say no, and not feel pressured into doing anything. You can find out more about this, here.

You have to be very careful to make sure that the person you want to have sex with also wants to have sex with you. You can’t assume that someone who has agreed to have sex with you before will always want to have sex with you every time you want to. If you have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you, you could be arrested for rape.

Even if you both want to have sex, if one of you is under 13, the older one can get into serious trouble if you go ahead.

If you’re going to have sex, you should use contraception unless you want to get pregnant. You can buy condoms in chemists and supermarkets. In some areas in Wales you can get free condoms using a C Card. You can ask your doctor or a nurse or go to a sexual health clinic for advice and information about sex and contraception without your parents knowing. If the doctor is happy that you understand all the implications, he or she can give you other forms of contraception like the pill, or implants without your parents knowing. It’s worth knowing that condoms can stop you getting a sexually transmitted infection as well as stop you getting pregnant.

Depending on what your situation is, your partner might be able to come and live with you in your home, or you might be able to go and live with them.

You can leave home when you’re 16 with your parents’ permission. If you’re both over 16 and your mum or dad or people with parental responsibility for you agree, this should be OK. If you’re both under 18, and want to rent your own place, then the landlord of the property will need an adult to sign the rent agreement and may ask the adult to guarantee the rent payments.

If one of you is 18 or older, he or she will be able to sign the rent agreement.

If one of you is 16 or 17 and can’t live at home because of something that’s happened and might be made homeless, the local authority should help you to find somewhere to live.

If you move in together, you don’t have to do anything official apart from telling organisations like the bank (if you have a bank account), the council and the benefits agency if you are receiving benefits that you have moved, and what your new address is If you are at college or university, you should tell them what your new address is. You should tell your doctor and your dentist (if you have one) too. Changing where you live may change the benefits you get, so you should check this before you move out. You’ll get a form through at some point to add you to the electoral role. You need to fill this form in to be able to vote in elections.

There’s not much you can do unless you had a legal agreement, called a cohabitation agreement, which set out what would happen if you split up. This can become complicated, especially if you have children together, or if you can’t afford to stay where you are living once your partner moves out.

You can get married (whether you are in an opposite sex or same sex couple) or enter into a civil partnership when you are 16 as long as your parents, or the people with parental responsibility for you and your partner, agree. Once you are both 18, you can marry or have a civil partnership without your parents’ permission.

If you do get married or have a civil partnership, your relationship is given special status in law. It means that if one of you dies, the other will have special rights in relation to any property owned by him or her. It means that if you split up, the courts have to work out who gets what according to special rules. It means that if you have children together, you will both automatically get parental responsibility.

It’s illegal in Wales for someone to force you into marriage, however old you are. Read more about forced marriage and what you can do if you’re worried about it, or if you have been forced to get married, here.





We are very grateful to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for generously giving their time and expertise to check the content of this section of the website. October 2018