Answer: It depends upon your definition of “date.”
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Is It Illegal For a 16 Year Old To Date a 13 Year Old?
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What Does “Date” Mean?
To “date” can mean a lot of things.
In the discussion about whether the dating is legal or not, the actual activities involved in the dating have to be examined.
First and foremost, it is important to note that laws in each state vary to some degree, so make sure to follow up this article with a state specific investigation if you have concerns, or contact an attorney where you live.
In most states, there’s no law that specifies when people can engage in the activity of “dating.”
Instead, the laws make it illegal for one person to touch, kiss, become intimate, and share adult content with a person who does not have “capacity.”
If “dating” means going to the movies together, there’s no laws that prohibit this, assuming that the parents consent to the 16 year old taking the 13 year old.
The same is true for chatting on the phone, going on hikes, studying together in the same space, walking the halls together, going to dances, texting, and more.
However, the problems arise when other more adult aspects of “dating” come into play.
Romantic couples kiss, hold hands, and explore other intimate activities.
If the physical interactions could be construed as being done for the physical gratification of the adult (or older person), the physical interactions could result in a prosecution.
In some circumstances, holding the hand of a younger person could be fine, while in other circumstances, it won’t be.
The same is true for sitting on someone’s lap, touching someone’s neck, kissing the hand, and more.
When Both Members Are Under The Age of 18
Capacity can mean age or mental state.
Some states make the age of capacity 16, while others have made it 18.
In all states, a 13 year old is considered a child.
In some states, a 16 year old is considered an adult.
Some states reserve the right to prosecute a child as an adult in certain circumstances.
Some states have laws that make it possible for an older child to avoid prosecution if the two members of the couple are within a certain number of years of age from each other, like 3 years, for example.
(Sometimes called ‘Romeo and Juliet’ exception/defense).
This does not make the contact legal, but allows the defendant to assert the law as an affirmative defense.
We have not seen a situation where the Romeo/Juliet defense extended to teenagers that were more than 3 years in age apart.
Most Romeo/Juliet defenses do not apply when one or both of the parties are 14 or younger.
Should a 13 Year Old and 16 Year Old Date?
Like we said earlier, it depends on the definition of dating.
But for the sake of protecting everyone involved, probably not.
There is a world of difference between a child of 13 and a 16 year old.
For the parents of the 16 year old, there are so many ways that they 16 year old could make decisions that would result in life-long hardship.
A 16 year old trying to date a 13 year old could have only limited contact with the 13 year old, with many normal activities of dating curtailed.
And when the 16 year old turns 18, and the 13 year old turns 15, the ramifications turn potentially even worse for the older member of the couple.
Even the older teen’s text messages could result in a criminal prosecution, if the content shared between them was too adult or explicit.
Even if the teens commit to waiting to engage in the more intimate aspects of the relationship, the older member of the couple could still be subject to criminal prosecution for kissing or hugging.
This is even the case if the parents on both sides of the relationship consent to the involvement of the children.
The best advice for a 13 year old and 16 year old who claim to be seriously interested in dating is that they wait until the legal implications are no longer a risk to either of them.
If they are truly in love and serious, they should be willing and interested in the protection and best interests of their partner.
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