Monday, August 15, 2011

Contracting With Minors

Watching a Justin Bieber documentary with my daughter (there goes my indie cred) I am reminded that the median age of music performers is getting younger. This trend has been apparent since Taylor Swift's initial success. I am sure that I am not the only Nashville lawyer who has faced a singing 10 year old in my office. However, signing minors to contracts is serious business and is often misunderstood. Legally, minors can't contract. Hence contracts signed by minors are generally unenforceable, unless a very specific process is followed. This process varies from state to state. In Tennessee the process is covered by the "Tennessee Protection of Minor Performers Act". T.C.A. Sec. 50 5-201 which sets forth a court approval procedure for "contracts pursuant to which a minor person is employed . . . or agrees to perform or render artistic or creative services". The process may include a provision by which the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the minor's interest.

Interestingly, the statute contains an apparently little known section that requires a trust to be set up for a portion of a minor's earnings. While most practitioners are generally aware of this statute very few people seem to be aware of this section, meaning, I am not sure how often the statute is followed in short-term employment situations (such as hiring a child actor for a small movie role or local commercial). However for any type of long-term personal services contracts such as a recording agreement, publishing agreement or management agreement. court approval is absolutely essential in order to have a valid binding contract. There are also other issues to consider in these types of agreements, including choice of law and jurisdiction. Sometimes these contracts are affirmed in more than one state. If your company is thinking about contracting with a minor, the important thing is to not ignore this court approval process.

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