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The Parental Responsibility Laws for each state in the Union vary somewhat; however, they are all established by the laws of that state and they pertain mainly to the malicious destruction of property or injury to a person by a minor for which the parents are responsible. A dollar limit is set for each state as is the age of majority, which is 18 years old for all the continental states, Hawaii, and Alaska. However, Samoa and Puerto Rico have the age of majority set at 14 years old.
Specificity regarding the liability varies from state to state. Some, like Iowa, simply state that liability will be imposed upon the parents for "any unlawful act," With $2000.00 set for one act and $5000.00 for 2 or more acts; or others, such as Kentucky, establish categories and dollar amounts. That is, Kentucky has three categories: (1) Vandalism- $2,500-10,000.00, (2) Auto Liability- unlimited amount, and (3) Owner Entrusting vehicle to Minor- unlimited amount.
Did your child do it? Then you, the parent, are responsible. That is basically the foundation behind parental liability. “Responsibility” means that you must pay for any damage your child causes, whether that damage occurs through negligence or through intentional criminal acts your child commits. Parental liability typically begins when between the ages of eight and ten of a child, depending on the state. A parent remains responsible for the acts committed by their children until that child reaches an “Age of Majority,” typically between ages eighteen and twenty-one, again, depending on the laws of particular states. Also dependent on state law is the threshold for damages incurred and the inclusion of personal injury claims in the tort.
Hawaii has the oldest set of laws on the books regarding parental liability. Enacted in 1846, Hawaii’s parental liability laws are also the most broadly applied; these laws set no limits on financial claims, as well as allowing claims of both negligence and intentional acts in its torts, and admits civil liability pursuits as well.
In 1903, Colorado was the first state to criminalize acts that contributed to the delinquency of a minor; most states soon followed suit. Also, in most states, claims can be either civil or criminal in nature. Civil cases ask for monetary reparations. Criminal suits are brought by the government for breeches of law; many parental liability cases involve both civil and criminal complaints.
All parental negligence cases are pursued against minors. A minor is a person who is under the age of personal liability. In most states, a minor is a person who is under the age of 18, but in some states, children are not considered to have reached the age of liability until 19, 20, or even 21 years of age. A minor is considered to be a resident of the same state as the custodial parent of guardian, whether or not that child actually resides in the same state.
In regard to civil responsibility, a parent is liable for the actions of their child just as an employer typically is responsible for the actions of their employees while on the job. This legal responsibility is called “vicarious liability.” Although the parent is not directly responsible, (for example, they did not personally vandalize a neighbor’s home), they are vicariously liable, and are held financially responsible for damages incurred by their child’s actions. There may also be attempts for the parent to pay for any personal injury claims their child has caused.
One area of contention regards teenage parents. Thousands of young girls become pregnant every year, some as early as twelve years old. When this happens, these girls frequently are eligible for welfare benefits for their child, as the fathers almost always fail to take responsibility for their children. Many of the fathers themselves are still minors; many are still in high school. As such, they typically are not in a position to pay child support. The pregnant young women, then, often called “minor mothers” and their cases are referred to the state, where legal proceedings begin, so that child support and welfare can be established.
When the state receives a “minor-mother” case, the state takes action against three parties: the minor-mother’s own mother, the minor-mother’s own father, and the father of the minor-mother’s unborn child. The parents of the pregnant minor are liable for support of their daughter until she is emancipated (becomes legally responsible for herself). The parents, then, are required to pay child support to their daughters.
The Welfare Reform Act (WRA) of 1996 implemented new requirements in order for a minor-mother to receive additional benefits. She must be enrolled either in high school or in a state-approved GED program. She must live under adult supervision. Additionally, parents of the teenaged father (the grandparents of the minor-mother’s child) are now required to pay child support until their son reaches the age of emancipation. This is a completely new. Before the WRA, grandparents were never financially responsible for their grandchildren. Moreover, another important change is that the government can now collect child support from the minor-father while he is still a minor, something they could not previously do until the minor-father got a job.
If one of the minor-mother’s parents is not living with the minor-mother, that non-custodial parent may be slapped with a paternity suit. The minor-mother can seek support from that parent, rather than the father of her baby, because as a minor, the parents are still liable for her, and the grandparents’ income might be “deemed available” to the grandchild for “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families” (TANF). The minor-mother can go through the court to have that income made available to her as child support.
As for the problem of negligent supervision of a minor, a parent is responsible if they know, or have reason to know, that their child has acted in a manner that harms another person’s property or if they cause bodily harm. This failure to act is called “negligent supervision.” Not only are parents in danger of being charged with negligent supervision; grandparents, too, can be charged. Typically, there is no limit to a monetary claim of this nature, although a homeowner’s policy, or an umbrella policy, can offer the responsible adult(s) some measure of protection against lawsuits against their children.
Letting your child drive your car has its risks as well. The “Family Car Doctrine” makes the owner of the family car legally liable for damage caused by the driver of that car, when another family member knowingly allowed another family member use of the vehicle. About half of the states have this statute as a part of their parental liability laws.
When it comes to criminal responsibility, some states impose criminal liability on the parents, but most have less severe penalties in regards to parents in liability cases. Three states, Kansas, Michigan, and Texas require that parents be present at hearing of children adjudicated delinquent. Failure to attend these hearing results in contempt charges for the parents. In four states, Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, parents must pay the court costs for their child’s case. In many states, parents are responsible for the costs of processing their child through the juvenile justice system. If your child commits a crime in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia, expect to have to repay the state for your child’s care, support, housing, and treatment.
Access to firearms is another area of law in which parents can be held responsible for their child. Nine states hold adults liable for storing a loaded firearm which can be accessed by a child. While in most states, the penalty is a misdemeanor, in some, allowing a minor access to a firearm might result in felony charages.
A number of acts might get a minor labeled as a juvenile delinquent. Those acts range from chronic truancy to felonies. Parents often find themselves having to pay thousands of dollars in reimbursing the state for the costs associated with the processing and rehabilitation of their children.
Source: Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, ©2003 Gale Cengage.
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