Friday, March 18, 2005

Parents' Rights & Responsibilities

The information for this article comes from a legal guide for parents called Kids and The Law.

Parents have many responsibilities when it comes to their children. But they have important rights as well:

Custody and control: Parents must make important decisions about their children’s lives, such as where the children will live, what school they will attend, when medical care is appropriate and what, if any, religion they will practice. These rights are constitutionally protected and generally cannot be taken away unless it can be shown that the parents are unfit.

Cooperation and obedience: Parents are expected to control their children and are permitted to discipline them (not to the point of abuse or neglect, however). In some instances, children may run away from home, refuse to go to school or be beyond parental control. And, if the situation is extreme, the parents may seek to give up legal responsibility for the child. Or, if the parents fail to adequately control their child, a judge may determine that the child is in need of supervision and declare him or her a ward of the court. When this occurs, the court sometimes takes custody of the child and the responsibility for that child’s basic needs and education.

Children are not required to obey a parental order to do something dangerous or illegal. Parents who allow or encourage children to commit dangerous or illegal acts may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, (Penal Code § 272), child abuse (Penal Code § 273a) or neglect. (Penal Code § 270)

Earnings: While most parents allow their child to keep his or her earnings, parents do have a legal right to such wages. (FC § 7500) There are exceptions to this rule, however. A child’s earnings may not be available to parents if:
  • The parents have exploited, neglected or abandoned the child, and the child has brought suit to be freed from parental control. (Family Code § 7507)
  • The child’s income is the result of his or her special talent or athletic ability (a child star or athlete). (Family Code §§ 6750, 6753)
  • The child’s income is the result of a gift or inheritance. (Family Code § 7502; Probate Code § 3300)
Recovery for death or injury: If a child is killed or injured, parents are entitled to bring a lawsuit to recover costs such as medical or funeral expenses from the person responsible. (Code of Civil Procedure § 376)

Parental responsibilities: Parents’ most important responsibility is to support their children. They are legally obligated to provide their children with the necessities of life. (Penal Code § 270) Such necessities are not limited to food, clothing and shelter, but also include medical care. In addition, parents are expected to support their children according to their ability and station in life; this means that the children should share in both parents’ standard of living. (Family Code § 4053) This responsibility falls on both parents equally and applies to children’s adoptive parents as well. (Family Code § 9305) The failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or parental care and supervision may lead to criminal prosecution for neglect. (Penal Code § 270)

If a county is required to support a child, it can seek reimbursement from parents who are capable, but have refused, to provide such support. (Welfare & Institutions Code § 11477) Parents also are required to reimburse the county for support costs incurred during the detention of a child under a juvenile court order. (Welfare & Institutions Code § 903) And parents must pay the county back for legal services provided to minors in juvenile court proceedings. (Welfare & Institutions Code § 903.1) The duty to provide support to children lasts until the child reaches the age of majority, usually 18, or 19 if the child is still enrolled in high school full-time. (Family Code § 3901)

The fact that a child’s parents are not married does not affect the parents’ responsibility to support their child. (Family Code § 3900) If parents are unmarried or divorced, and cannot agree upon how much each should contribute toward the support of their children, the courts may be called upon to decide. One parent, or the child through a guardian ad litem, may bring an action against the other parent to enforce the duty to pay child support. (Family Code § 4000) Alternatively, the county may proceed on behalf of a child to enforce the child’s right of support against a parent who fails to provide it. (Family Code § 4002) A judge may order one parent to make specified payments to the other for child support. (Family Code § 4500) The court’s authority to order a parent to pay child support or to enforce such an award includes the following: a writ of execution or levy (Family Code § 5100), a wage garnishment (Family Code § 5230), civil contempt proceedings (Family Code § 290) or criminal prosecution. (Penal Code § 270)

Note: A stepchild (a child from a prior marriage) is generally not entitled to support from a stepparent. (Family Code § 3900) Birth parents remain primarily responsible for child support unless the stepparent adopts the child. (Family Code § 9305) If, however, a stepparent or other person provides necessary support to a child in good faith (when the custodial parent neglects to do so), that person may recover the reasonable value of those necessities from the custodial parent. (Family Code § 3950) However, the natural parents, stepchild or state would not be required to reimburse such costs if the support was provided voluntarily, unless there was a specific agreement to do so. (Family Code § 3951)

Supervision and control of children: Parents may be morally responsible for supervising and controlling their children. However, parents generally are not legally responsible for the acts of their children. (Family Code § 6600) There are exceptions.

For example, parents who encourage their children to break the law may be found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (Penal Code § 272) Also, parents who know or should have known that their child engages in improper conduct, or who aid or encourage such conduct, may be held liable for their children’s acts. There are specific statutes that hold parents liable for certain harm caused by their children:

Injuries from guns: Parents may be required to pay victims up to $60,000. (Civil Code § 1714.3)

Willful misconduct: If the child causes injury or death to another, or property damage, the parents are liable for up to $25,000. (This could apply to the parents of a child who commits an Internet-related crime, such as software piracy.) (Civil Code § 1714.1)

Destruction of property: Parents may be liable for sums that their children cannot pay, up to $50,000. (Penal Code § 594(b)(d))

Graffiti: Parents may be liable for the costs of removal, repair and/or replacement of property, and for keeping the property free of graffiti for up to one year. (Penal Code § 594(c); Government Code § 38772(b))

Tear gas injuries: Parents who have signed a minor’s consent form to obtain tear gas may be liable for the child’s negligent or wrongful acts or omissions. (Penal Code § 12403.8(c))

Truancy fines: Parents may be required to pay fines of up to $100. (Education Code § 48264.5(d)(2))

Injuries to another person on school grounds; damage to school property; failure to return borrowed school property: Parents may be liable for up to $10,000, and up to $10,000 for any reward. The school may withhold grades, diplomas or transcripts until these amounts are paid. (Education Code § 48904)

Shoplifting: If a child steals from a store or library, the parents may be responsible for up to $500 plus costs. (Penal Code § 490.5(b))

Curfew violations: Parents must pay the actual administrative and transportation costs incurred by the police for picking up and returning children to their homes on a second violation. (Welfare & Insitutions Code § 625.5(e))

Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.


Anonymous said...

What does a parent do with a 17 year old daughter who leaves the house in the middle of the night and stays gone till the next evening, or says she's staying at a friends house overnight, but stays somewhere else and then does not return all weekend? does not answer her cell phone when parent calls. Is constantly cutting school. HELP!!!!!!

Carl Starrett said...

It is difficult to comment on your situation for several reasons. First, I am not a counselor. Second, you haven't provided enough detail about you situation for me to evaluate your legal obligations and duties. Third, I only practice law in California and the laws of your state may be different.

However, it is clear that you lost control of your child at some point in time and you need to reestablish who is the boss. The following link has information on a number of useful resources that might be of assistance to you:

One thing you need to determine is if there is anything going on in your daughter's life that requires an intervention such as drugs or alcohol. You sometimes need to diagnose the problem before treating the symptoms.

The Stark Raving Viking said...

My daughter is a national honor society student and got a full scholarship.

I worked my entire life, stayed out of trouble, away from drugs, and owned $500,000 in Connecticut rental property.

I complained that police did little about heroin and crack cocaine dealing in newspapers. I proposed Civilian Oversight of Police to elected officials to make police deal with kids, teens, and common criminal parasites ruining the quality of life for those who live and own businesses downtown.

I was attacked on my property during a robbery attempt. I used pepper spray to end the attack.

With no record I was sentenced to a year in prison, 3 years probation and the criminal was given immunity. What???!!!

The parents on welfare doing and selling heroin and crack cocaine are still doing crimes and drugs and have their children.

I was punished for speaking out.

Try putting "Steven G. Erickson" in a search engine

Carl Starrett said...


Unfortunately I do not practice in Connecticut nor do I practice federal civil rights law.

If you need a referral, I would suggest contacting the county bar association where the incidents took place in order to obtain legal representation. I would contact an attorney as soon as possible because your claim may be subject to a statute of limitation.

Anonymous said...

I have sole custody (joint and legal)because of domestic violence from my ex. I have a pending lawsuit that I am adding my ex to (for domestic violence to me and my children). I am going to get Guardian Ad Litem status to bring suit against my ex, and someone else that will be added to this suit as well. Under CCP 376, do I have to ask my ex to be a "plaintiff"??? That makes NO sence in this situation.... What do I do???

Carl Starrett said...

I haven't researched the issue thoroughly, but CCP Section 376 does containe language that the parent who doesn't join as a defendant should be named as a defendant. There is probably case law the covers your situation and I suspect the fact that sole legal and physical custody would give you the right to leave out your ex as a plaintiff.

Anonymous said...

I am a parent of a 10 yr old boy who at an intersection was hit by a vehicle. The injuries were very minor but the driver is pursuing to sue me the parent for the property damages. What are my rights and how can I determine the amount of dollars being sued for? The driver has a 1985 Honda Accord and is suing me for $2000.00 He has been harrassing me since the next day after the incident and continues to call me on a weekly basis sometimes daily. I agreed to try to meet him half way but his demeanor is inconsiderate. The vehicle is in perfect running condition.

Anonymous said...

I have a question, if a child whom is now an adult was abused as a child growing up do they have the right to sue their abuser ?

Anonymous said...

Dear Carl,
I need some advise on proper legal steps. A child from two houses down does not like my children and feels free to bully and harass my kids and damage my property. Both the adults in their home work and are never there to supervise them. After several attempts to inform the parents we have basically been ignored and mocked. On a regular basis their kid jumps over my grass, curb, and driveway with his bike or scooter which damages my grass. My cars and house have been paintballed (he got a gun for xmas), I have had to repair nails in my tire three times in one year (finally having to buy a new tire), and stop their kid from verbally abusing mine, as well as other acts of vandalism. Today their child broke a ramp on purpose which my child was playing with. When his father was informed he was rude, loud, and threatening that maybe our kids should just fight and that his kid can beat my kid up any time. He also encouraged his child to play in our front yard regardless of what we said including jumping over our curb and grass. He also warned us that we have not seen anything yet. Clearly, this adult is negligent in his supervision of his child and refuses to discipline him. What can I do to build a case that will make him liable for the actions of his kids (he also has a 14 year old daughter that races up and down the street on a motorcycle with no helmet when she is left alone).

Anonymous said...

is it a child's, parent's, or joint lawful responsibility to do the family grocery shopping and cook meals?

Anonymous said...

I have a 17 year old niece that was in job corp when her Mother moved to another state. She now leaves with me. Her Mother has not sent her a dime. Is this any cause for legal action against my sister (my niece's mother)? Help please.

Anonymous said...

I have a 17 year old niece that was living at job corp when her mother moved out of state. My niece now lives with me and my family. Her mother has not sent her a penny since. Is there any legal action that can be taken against my sister (17 years Mother)for abandonment or anything like that?

Anonymous said...

I have a 17 year old daughter who shows signs of Bipolar and refuses to go to counseling. I can't physically make her go. No one can seem to give me the advice or direction I need to take to help my child. I know that this is not a curable ailment but a controllable one. But without a diagnosis, she will continue to be disruptive to her family and herself. I am between a rock and a hard place because she is a minor, still living in my home, still be supported by myself, but yet I have no parental rights to ensure that my child is taken care of in a situation that I can't help her with personally.

Anonymous said...

I am willing turning over full legal and physical custody of 14 year old and 15 year old. It not being disputed. Am I held responsible for any illegal actions of my children after this?

Anonymous said...

My 19 year old recently ran a red light and hit the back end of another crossing the intersection. The driver is now attempting to sue my son. he lives at home and his father is the co-signer on his car loan and his insurance policy is his father's name. Are we at risk in this law suit? is he independent of us due to his age? just wondering what legal repsonsibilities we have to a 19yr old.

Anonymous said...

my 17 year old ran away with an older sibling 5 days ago...the police took them into custody but refused to release her to me because she was afraid I may be so mad that I might hit her. Their solution was to do nothing...saying "she is almost 18, let her go ahead and do what she wants" and they planned to release her back into her sisters customer with no recourse. I had to insist the find a more suitable adult. Then I had to insist they follow up with CPS on the abuse claims so that I would have a say in whether I got her back. I was so frustrated by this process and once she lied to them in continuiation of her temper tantrum for not being given more spending money from her social security account, I could not get any further assistance from the police. How do I get my rights protected, reclaim my wayward daughter, and fight a police system that is incompetant. what do I do next

Anonymous said...

I have a question from the opposite spectrum. A child turns eighteen while still in high school, and several months from graduating. This is not a result of being held back, but the regular course of four year high school, and the parents are threatening to kick the child out the day she turns eighteen. Is this legal?

Anonymous said...

I have a question my daughter is 18 year's old but her boy friend is 17 years old and they want to leave on their own. She is a senior in high school can I get an a legal problems if I let her go? Or can she get an a legal problem because the boyfriend is younger then her? ....thank you!

Anonymous said...

My son got into alot of trouble in his youth (age 14) he is now 26. He was placed in a lock down detention facility for a year, the cost was outrageous 58,000 dollars that I am responsible for. Is there any law that would state I would not be responsible or transfer it to my son. other than maybe filing bankruptcy I am at a loss. I will be paying this debt for the rest of my life. sincerely overwhelmed

Anonymous said...

What is the legality on a 17 year old who stole but was caught with alcohol undamaged, and they were a run away when then occurred.
The store incurred no loss of inventory nor was there damage done to the bottle. They were listed as a runaway, with the local police department. The big blue chain store sent us a letter demanding $250 for damages material, that was not damaged. In addition he was not in our care custody or control at the time of the incident.
Are we still liable?

Anonymous said...

As a parent/step parent of 4 teenagers 3 girls and 1 boy. We are currently dealing with some extreamly entitled headstrong spoiled brats.
As parents we are obligated to provide shelter, food, clothing, education and health care.
Specifically how many articles of clothing and other physical items are required by law to be provided to each child who is a student and living in our home
19, 17,16,14

Anonymous said...

When a kid is 17 and you have to leave for business and you leave some there to take care of them. Do you have to tell the kid everything. Or the adult that is there taking care of them

Unknown said...

My daughter is 19 and was hit by a car yesterday in Denver Colorado at Red Rocks amphitheater while standing in the parking lot. She was with her classmates and teacher on college field trip. She was taken to the ER and released with road rash to her lower buttocks thigh and foot. They took x-rays. She has a slight limp a very sore back and numbness in her foot. I'd like to know what my rights are as a parent

Unknown said...

If a girl who is 3 months away from being 18 no longer wants to live with her father who has full custody is she obligated to live with him if she's made her choice to leave and doesn't want to go back because of physical and mental abuse cause by him

Anonymous said...

My 17 yr old has been running away from home since age 14. I always report him and when he has no place left to go, he returns home. He will usually do good for about 2 weeks, then run again. His dad and I have decided that we can no longer deal with this behavior. He is currently suspended from school pending an expulsion hearing, he got a citation for public fighting ( or something like that), and he is somewhere in the streets. Is there a way that we can remove ourselves from legal responsibility in California?