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Parental Rights and Liability

There are many facets of parenting. Two of these are the rights that parents hold regarding the ability to see and raise their children and the responsibilities they have for supporting their children and their children’s actions. Not every family is the same, so determining these rights and responsibilities can be difficult. However, there are legal processes for both the creation and termination of parental privileges and obligations. Welcome to the Parenting and the Law section of FindLaw's Family Law Center, providing information on legal issues related to parenting.

In this section, you’ll find information on parents' liability for the acts of their children, the termination of parental rights, and more. Whether you need to learn the basics about parental liability, need to know how parents' rights can be formally ended, need resources to help children deal with issues such as divorce or adoption, or just want to know the basics on child related tax deductions, use the resources below to learn more.

Parental Rights

The legal concept of parental rights generally refers to a parent’s right to make decisions regarding a child’s education, health care, and religion, among other things. If parents are separated or divorce, these rights can extend to custody and visitation. While these rights can be automatic in certain family structures, such as with married parents at the birth of the child, it may be necessary for a parent to petition a court for the rights, as in cases of disputed paternity.

Parental rights can also be terminated, either explicitly or implicitly. A father who never claims paternity, or against whom paternity is never established, has no parental rights. A father can also voluntarily relinquish parental rights. A court can also terminate rights for either parent, against his or her wishes, in cases of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, or if a parent has a long-term mental illness, alcohol or drug impairment, or incarceration period.

Parental Liability

Parents can also be legally responsible for their children’s behavior. State laws can vary, but from the time a child is around 8 years old and until he or she reaches the age of majority (18 in most states), parents could be subject to civil lawsuits or even criminal sanctions for the negligent or criminal acts of a child. In civil cases, if a child’s negligence causes an injury to another, his or her parents may be ordered to pay damages or restitution. In the criminal sense, parents could be punished for their children’s delinquency or absence from school, gun crimes, or Internet crimes.

Like parental responsibility, parental liability can also be terminated. Normally, this occurs automatically when a child reaches the age of majority and is considered an adult in the eyes of the law. However, if a parent’s legal rights are terminated for any reason, their legal liability is normally terminated as well.

Legal Help for Parents

Navigating the legal rights and responsibilities of parents can be emotionally and legally challenging, especially if a parent is trying to establish rights or terminate liability. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand the relevant law or help guide you through the legal paperwork and procedures.