If you’re a parent, especially a new parent, you’re probably aware that there are many, many issues you’re currently facing that you didn’t have to before, including new budgetary concerns, keeping your child healthy, choosing a school, and others.
However, what you might not be thinking about is the legal issues that parenting can raise. There are certain legal issues that only parents (or guardians) of minor children can face, because of the unique legal relationship that exists between parents and children.
This blog post is intended to serve as a basic overview of some of the unique legal issues that parents can face. These issues can arise from a parent’s conduct towards their child, or their child’s conduct (for which parents are sometimes held responsible).
Parental Liability for Acts of Their Children
First, and perhaps most importantly, you should know that, in most cases, parents can be held legally responsible for the conduct of their children, if the child is not an adult (generally, this means under the age of 18).
For example, suppose you have a minor child who vandalizes someone else’s property. The child is caught, and the owner of the property, understandably, seeks compensation for the damage.
Obviously, a young child is unlikely to have enough money to pay for repairing the property, if the damage is at all significant. This doesn’t mean that the owner of the property is out of luck. They may not be able to sue the child for the damage they’ve caused but, legally, they can usually sue the child’s parents. This is because parents are generally held responsible for the conduct of their minor children, and are expected to provide adequate supervision.
Generally, however, if the child commits a serious crime, the parents will not be held criminally liable. So, a parent cannot go to jail for the unlawful conduct of a child. They can, however, be made to compensate the victims through a civil lawsuit.
Another issue that parents (particularly single parents) often face is child custody. If the parents of a child are not marred to one another, they have to come to some type of agreement about who the child will live with, who has primary parenting authority, etc.
Child custody can become an extremely contentious issue between parents, especially if they are no longer married or otherwise in a romantic relationship with one another. If the parents cannot decide these issues amongst themselves, they usually have to take the issue to family court, which will have to make a decision for them.
If the parents can’t come to a child custody arrangement on their own, they have to submit their case to a local family court, which is able to make a binding decision for them. When making a child custody decision, a family court will base this decision on one factor: the best interests of the child. The desires, preferences, or convenience of either parent will not, and should not, enter into the equation.
When determining what arrangement is in the child’s best interests, the court starts with the assumption that it is in a child’s best interests to have both parents involved in his or her life, and will operate under this assumption unless there is convincing evidence to the contrary. This usually means that one parent will be given custody, with the other given extensive visitation rights.
Another important legal issue that single parents can face is child support. When one parent has custody of a child, the other (non-custodial) parent usually has a legal obligation to make monetary contributions to support the child. It’s important to note that child support is a right held by the child, not the custodial parent. For that reason, when a child reaches legal adulthood (usually age 18), they sometimes have the right to sue a parent who has been delinquent in their child support payments for the balance owed.
However, when the child is a minor, the payments are usually made out to the custodial parent. The custodial parent has an obligation, however, to spend child support money on the child, and not on his or her own desires. If it’s shown that a custodial parent has been spending child support money on non-essential luxury items, or anything else not reasonably related to the well-being of the child, they may have to forfeit some future child support payments.
Like all legally-recognized relationships, the parent-child relationship confers upon its parties many rights and responsibilities. This blog post is meant to serve as a general overview, while providing a few examples. It is definitely not intended to serve as a comprehensive guide to the law of parenting.
About the author
John Richards is a writer for LegalMatch.com and the LegalMatch.com Law Blog. The above article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed in any way as legal advice relevant to your particular situation. The only person qualified to give you legal advice is an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction, who has been apprised of all the relevant facts of your situation.