From deciding on actions pertaining to the child’s welfare, education, and healthcare, to coming up with various ways to secure them financially, in the parent-child relationship, the parents are bestowed with several rights and responsibilities with regard to the child.
1. Parental Rights
In the United States, every state has developed laws that regulate parental rights and highlights parental responsibilities. In a general sense, a parent can be defined as an individual who possesses legal custody of a child.
Taking as an illustration, although not biological, for any adopted child, their guardians are the parents as legally asserted, hence the biologically connected individuals of the child will be devoid of any right to be asserted on the said child.
Cases that pertain to the parents losing any legal hold over the child are when the court determines to terminate the right of the aforesaid on the grounds of vehement neglect or abuse extended towards the child.
Where one or both parents’ legal assertion over the child is taken away, then either a custodian or a legally authorized guardian shall be appointed to duly execute responsibilities as the child’s parent. Irrespective of being biological or appointed by the court, an individual safeguarding the child’s wellbeing shall enjoy the same rights and authority under the law.
Diving deeper, the parental rights are as follows:
1.1. Right to Physical Custody-
The parents shall have reasonable visitation rights with the child and regular contact
1.2. Right to Legal Custody-
The parents own the right to make major decisions pertaining to the child’s health, education, and religious upbringing.
1.3. Right to Pass Property –
The parents own the right to pass property to a child via gift or inheritance.
1.4. Right to A Child’s Earnings-
The parents own the right to inherit from the child in the event of death.
It is essential to understand that both individuals who have been legally asserted as parents share the rights aforementioned, however in cases of divorce or separation, the court may impose limitations on the said rights of the parents subject to circumstances.
2. The Legal Responsibilities of Parents
From upholding the best interests of the child to meeting their essential requirements, it is extremely crucial for the parents to assist their child with financial aid.
It is very categorically expressed that, to secure the child’s financial needs, is only an obligation to parents, till the child attains the age of 18 or has graduated high school unless the aforesaid is in need of special attention and care.
Apart from finances, it is also important to emphasize the aspect of emotional and physical needs. From fulfilling the basic requirements such as food, clothing, shelter, medical aid, and education of the child to extending protection from violence, abuse and threat suspended from strangers, other members of the family or even the counter parent against that child, a parent’s duty towards their offspring comprises of vast arenas.
Court’s Interference in Parent’s Rights and Obligations
The court has full discretion to intervene in cases where it deems essential to alter, terminate, or change the parental rights dispersed toward the child. In cases, where the parents are in process of divorcing, the court shall make judgements pertaining to custodial rights, visitation rights as well as child support rights, in terms of monetary assistance.
Apart from this, the court can also interject in the aforementioned to pass an order regarding a custody evaluation which will help in determining which parent is fit to possess the right of custody over the child. Both parents, even if only one of them is responsible for fulfilling the child support payments, have an equal duty to extend to their child.
Running parallelly, the courts are also authorized to restrict parental rights by ordering a supervised visitation that takes place between the parent and the child in presence of a third party.
Generally, parents are never put in a position where they are required to give up their parental rights, except in the most extreme cases of neglect and violence, where when the court ceases such rights of the parents, their financial responsibilities over the child are also terminated.
3. The Parental Liability
The term used for referencing a parent’s due obligation to pay for the damages caused by negligent, intentional, or criminal actions executed by the parent’s child is called Parental liability. Though the said liability ceases to exist when the child attains the age of majority, the law regulating the aforesaid varies from state to state in the nation.
Categorized as civil or criminal, the offences executed by children are tried differently. Civil cases are legal suits that are brought by a person against a child for having done an act that caused monetary damages. On the other hand, criminal cases, are initiated by the government for violating rights under criminal law against the same.
3.1. Civil Parental Liability
Considered non-criminal in nature, civil parental liability is said to have commenced when the parents have to be responsible for all the malicious, intentional property damage executed by their children. It is essential to state that, the parent is only responsible for financially paying the dues to the party aggrieved by his or her child’s actions.
From regulating the monetary limits, and the age limit of the child to ideating whether personal injury should be included in the tort claim, the laws are highly subjective to states and can vary immensely. Taking as an illustration, as per California law, an imposition of $25,000 is applicable, per incident to parents or guardians for damages that pop out from their minor’s intentional actions.
3.2. Criminal Parental Liability
Following the civil liability statutes, were the laws that made parents responsible for the acts of their children which were criminal in nature. Beginning in 1903, when Colorado set a bar to enact an action against “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”, now there are a minimum of 42 other states including Washington DC which have laws against the contribution of the delinquency of a minor.
From highlighting the accessibility to firearms to mentioning cybercrimes, the criminal liability statutes cover them all. It is been established that leaving firearms unattended in presence of children not only marks it illegal but also has given rise to child firearm access prevention laws in more than half of the States.
Speaking of cyber-related crimes, the regulation of computer hacking laws and the very basic idea of having Internet access has made it essential for a parent to be accountable for their child’s internet and cybercrimes.
3.3. Parent’s Liability for Their Children’s Actions
As cited above, the idea of Parental liability is only applied to children who are underage, that is they have not reached the age of majority which is of 18 years. Though it is important to assert, that the age of majority differs from state to state which could be either 19 or 21.
Considered a resident of the state as the legally asserted parents’, the child, if his parents separated and living in different states, then each lawfully granted parent is equally responsible for the child’s actions while under their supervision.
4. The Child Custody
Laws differ from state to state, but the essence of Child custody is to ensure “Children must have a joyful, healthy and secure environment in their growing up years” never changes.
In order to ascertain the best outcome for the child, the majority of the family, parents especially consult family lawyers to derive professional advice. As it is asserted that no parent benefits more or less from the legislation, hence a plan of action pertaining to the parenting style is created which is presented before a judge and is generally given a green signal after taking into consideration the contribution of each parent in the child’s life journey.
Under certain circumstances, the court grants sole custody to one parent whilst giving visitation rights to the other but generally, the court decides to extend joint custody of the child to the parents which suggests that both parents will equally take cognizance of the child’s wellbeing together.
Types of Child Custody
Custody falls under two arenas which are granted as per the discretion of the court and are as follows:
a) Physical custody
Under such kind of custody, only one parent is granted the physical authority of the child pertaining to providing the offspring with the necessary care and attention at their home whilst the other parent is allowed specific visitation rights as asserted by the court.
However, in recent years, the court has come to a consensus to grant parents joint physical custody as they are of the belief that the minor must be under the umbrella of both parents to have a balanced growth and development hence spending an equal amount of time with each parent physically and mentally is absolutely crucial.
b) Legal custody
Under this kind of custody, a parent or a lawfully appointed guardian has been given the to make essential decisions such as education, religion, health care, and general well-being inclusive of discipline and extracurricular participation for the child.
Family courts across the states put forth that for the child, support in terms of participation and engagement in the offspring’s life by both parents is termed as absolutely essential for the growth of the child. Hence, dual legal custody is generally advised by courts.
5. Judgements Pertaining to The Rights of Parents Under US Family Law
The U.S. Supreme Court and federal court, in numerous cases, has ordered judgements that highlight the parents’ constitutional rights to the care, custody, and control of their offspring, some of them are mentioned below:
5.1. Right to Raise Children as Per the Parents
i) Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923:
The Court held that a statute forbidding the teaching of the German language impermissibly encroached on the liberty parents possess. The Court explained that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects this liberty, incorporating “the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.”
ii) Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 1925:
The Court, relying on Meyer, very categorically struck down an Oregon statute that required children to attend public schools. This statute interfered with the right of parents to select private or parochial schools for their children and it lacked a reasonable relation to any purpose within the competency of the state.
5.2. Right to Make Decisions About Children
i) Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972:
Under this case, the Court held that Wisconsin’s compulsory education law violated an Amish father’s right to take his 15-year-old children out of school to complete their education in Amish ways at home.
ii) Troxel v. Granville, 2000:
In this case, the Court declared it unconstitutional, a Washington statute that authorized judges to order parents to permit more visitation between children and their grandparents than the parents desired.
5.3. Foundational Cases for Applying Constitutional Protections
i) Prince v. Massachusetts, 1944:
Pertaining to the aforementioned case, the Court held states may prosecute parents when they expose their children to serious hazards to their well-being.
ii) Stanley v. Illinois, 1972:
In this case, the Court declared it unconstitutional, an Illinois dependency statute that deprived unmarried fathers of the care and custody of their children on the death of the mother without any showing of the father’s unfitness.
5.4. Right to Resist Forceful State Intervention in The Family
Duchesne v. Sugarman, 1977:
In this said case, the Second Circuit held “The right of the family to remain together without the coercive interference of the awesome power of the state . . .encompasses the reciprocal rights of both parent and child.” The court explained that children have the constitutional right to avoid dislocation from the emotional attachments that derive from the intimacy of daily association with the parent.”
5.5. Right of Parents to Procreate Freely
i) Skinner v. Oklahoma, 1942:
Under this particular case, the Court held that an Oklahoma law which allowed the state to sterilize persons “convicted two or more times for crimes amounting to felonies involving moral turpitude,” violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it infringed upon the fundamental “right to have offspring.”
ii) Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965:
Under this said case, the Court held a Connecticut law as unconstitutional that barred the use and distribution of contraceptives, even for married persons. The Court ruled the Constitution protects various kinds of intimate privacy and the marriage relationship fell well within a zone of privacy that protected couples from virtually all governmental regulation.
iii) Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1972:
In this aforesaid case, the Court reasoned that because the marital privacy recognized in Griswold protects two independent and distinct individuals, this protection should apply equally to a single person. Accordingly, the Court invalidated a Massachusetts statute that prohibited the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons.
iv) Roe v. Wade, 1973:
In this said case, the court used their first-of-a-kind declaration which revolved around that part of a woman’s constitutional right to privacy (including the fundamental right whether or not to beget a child) includes the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (at least in the early stages of the pregnancy). Hence, in Roe, the Court restricted state power to forbid abortions, holding that a woman’s decision whether to bear a child is within the sphere of privacy “founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty.”
5.6. Right to Counsel
Lassiter v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs, 1981:
In the aforesaid case, the Court held parents have a due process right to a fundamentally fair procedure that may require the appointment of counsel.
5.7. Rights of Unfit Parents:
Santosky v. Kramer, 1982:
Under the aforementioned case, the Court declared unconstitutional a New York statute that authorized termination of parental rights based on a preponderance of the evidence. Santosky is the first Supreme Court case to hold that even after parents are found unfit in a contested court proceeding, they retain constitutionally protected parental rights.
Becoming a parent is easy, but executing and suspending responsibilities and duties towards the offspring is the real game.
From understanding the concept of obligations, duty fulfilment to the rights of the parents, it is essential to understand, becoming a parent of the child, despite the external circumstances is not only legally secured and binding but also a very satisfying process as it allows the individuals to see their upbringing prosper into something beautiful.