To what extent is a parent legally responsible for the actions of his children?

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A parent is not usually held liable for a criminal act of the child due to the difficulty for prosecutors to prove intent. In other words, the government must be able to prove that the parent knowingly engaged in a “bad act” for the parent to be held responsible. If the prosecutor can prove this, it invariably makes the parent a participant or party to the crime. The parent’s liability then is not said to derive from the child’s act. However, circumstances may vary and local laws may impose some degree of liability on parents for their child’s bad act. For instance, in most states parents may be charged for contributing to the delinquency of a child if they, in some form, encouraged their child to commit a criminal act.

In California, parents must go to parenting classes and meet with victims of gang-related crimes if their child is convicted of a gang-related crime. A parent may also be found to be liable to the extent he was negligent in the supervision of the child when that child commits a reckless act. So even where a parent is not found guilty, he may be forced to pay damages caused by the child’s illegal act.

Contrarily, it’s easier to find a parent liable in a civil case under many theories. If a parent’s failure to supervise a child leads to some damages being suffered by a plaintiff, that parent may be held responsible. In the same manner, when a parent is aware of a child’s tendency to commit mischief, that parent is held under a much higher duty to supervise the child. A parent may also be held directly liable if the child is acting as an “agent” of the parent. Liability is also implied when a parent lets a child drive a family car.

This does not mean that parents are always liable for the negligent behavior of their children. The extent of a parent’s liability is viewed on case to case bases and the age of the child, but parents should be aware that there is a growing trend to allow victims of a child’s violent behavior to be able to sue the parents for injuries they suffered. Parents are also now held to be responsible when their children download software illegally from the internet.

In this day of information technology, it is likely that some courts may find parent liable for certain acts over a network or device under their control. So watch that child’s behavior and consult your attorney for questions regarding the extent of your liability as a parent in your case.

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