Parents have a right to control the care and upbringing of their children. This gives parents the power to make various decisions affecting the child, including where to live, what school to attend, what religion to follow, and what medical treatment to obtain.
Normally the state may not interfere in these decisions. Only in life-threatening or extreme situations will the courts step in to over-rule parents. For example, when a child might die without the medical care that the parents refuse to provide, a judge may make the child a ward of the court (or the state) and order that the care be provided. Parents have been prosecuted for withholding medical treatment from seriously ill children. This has occurred even in situations where parents have followed their religious beliefs.
Although children can be hard to control (particularly adolescents), parents have the legal authority to control their children’s behavior and social lives. Parents may discipline or punish their children appropriately. They may not, however, use cruel methods or excessive force; that constitutes child abuse.
If a child causes damage to another person or property, the parents may be liable for damages. Some states, for example, have statutes that make parents liable for vandalism caused by their children up to a certain dollar amount, such as $500 or $1,000. If a child is severely out of control, the state may take custody of a child.
If a child has an auto accident while driving a parent’s car, the parent’s auto insurance policy generally will cover the loss to the same extent it would if the parent had been driving the car (although parents usually have to pay higher insurance premiums to cover young drivers).
Parents are legally responsible for their children until they reach the age of majority (usually eighteen), marry, or leave home to support themselves. In some states, divorced parents may be obliged to pay for a child’s college education or trade school. (In addition, a parent’s duty to support a disabled child might continue for the child’s entire life.
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