When a minor child is responsible for someone else’s property damage or personal injury, the juvenile justice system takes a different approach to liability than in cases involving adults. Often, the courts assign liability to the child’s parents. Many parents don’t realize that the courts can hold them legally responsible for the actions and behavior of their minor child. Almost every state has enacted a version of parental responsibility laws. Texas is no exception.
Texas Family Code Chapter 41
The details of Texas’ parental responsibility laws are in Texas Family Code section 41.001. Chapter 41 describes parental liability for the conduct of a child, but only deals with property damage, not personal injury. Texas’ parental responsibility laws do not cover personal injury liability. The statute assigns liability to any parent or “other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline” of a minor – meaning that legal guardians may be held responsible for the actions of a minor child. The courts will hold a parent liable for property damage a child causes in two situations:
- The courts can reasonably attribute a child’s negligent conduct to a negligent failure on the part of a parent or guardian.
- The child is between the ages of 10 and 18 and committed the act willfully and maliciously.
The Family Code places a limit on damages available for recovery according to the willful and malicious conduct of a child. The cap is to actual damages, not to exceed $25,000, plus attorney’s fees and court costs. The $25,000 or actual damage cap is per occurrence, meaning that two separate acts of property damage may have caps of $25,000 each. For example, if a minor child willfully and maliciously causes property damage in two different rooms of a hotel, the damage limits will apply to each room separately.
Texas Family Code does not cover property damage that results from accidental actions or behaviors. The courts will not assign fault for a child’s accident to his or her parents. For a defendant to bring a claim against a minor child for property damage, he or she needs to prove that the child’s negligence or willful and malicious intent caused the damage, not simply an accident.
Parental Liability Beyond the Texas Statute
Texas Family Code is not the be-all end-all of parental responsibility for a minor child’s actions in Texas. The statutes in Chapter 41 do not encompass all possible child actions and behaviors the courts might assign to parents. Civil liability may extend to parents under the principles of common law in certain situations. It is possible for an injured party to bring a personal injury claim against parents for damages a child caused on the grounds of parental negligence.
Legal for Teenager to Move In With Boyfriend?
Teenagers are just dying to take advantage of their independence, and for some teens that means moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The problem for that oh-so-ready-to-be-grown-up teen is that mom and dad generally aren’t so keen on the idea of an underage shack-up. What’s an independent-minded teen to do?
Or perhaps more importantly, what can parents do to prevent this scenario?
Parental Control Over Children Under 18
Assuming the teenager is still under 18, there are some things you can do as a parent in this situation. It’s not an ideal situation, but the law is, generally speaking, on your side.
A child under 18 is still technically under the legal control of her parents, which means they can decide things like where she lives.
If your child wants to move out and hasn’t turned 18 yet, then she legally can’t do it without your permission unless the child is emancipated. The emancipation process takes a while, and parents do get a chance to object if they wish.
In general, asking for emancipation just to move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend won’t fly in court. Minors must prove they are financially independent as part of the process.
But while legally you have a right to make your children live at home until age 18, it may be hard to enforce that under the law.
What to Do If a Teenager Moves Out
If your child moves out without your permission, you have several options. You could report the situation to the Department of Family and Children Services. But there’s likely not much they can do for older children. A 17-year-old is almost too old to take into the foster system, so courts may be unlikely to intervene.
You can also call the police to force your child to come home. If you can get officers to respond, the experience may be embarrassing and intimidating enough to keep your kid at home.
Parents Are Financially Responsible for Children
Even if your child moves out without your permission, or tries to, keep in mind that as a parent you are financially responsible for your child until he or she turns 18. That applies no matter where the child lives.
If the issue comes before a court, you may be able to argue that you would only provide funding if the child came back home and followed your rules. But if your child ends up broke and malnourished, that may not be enough to avoid legal consequences.
When your child wants to assert her independence, a good heart-to-heart talk may be enough to prevent any foolish choices she’ll regret. But if it’s not, at least the law will support you.
In the absence of emancipation, unaccompanied homeless youth can be taken into police custody as a runaway, which is considered a status offense. The officer may release the youth into the custody of the youth’s
guardian, a school official, or to a juvenile court. Youth are also unable to enter into legally binding contracts, which prevents youth from being able to obtain certain goods and services needed for independent living.
An exception is that youth aged 16 and older are able to consent to care at a transitional living program in a licensed residential child-care facility that is designed to provide basic life skills training toward independent
living. However, this residential service program is not considered an independent living program.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- If a youth runs away from home, what can parents do?
- Parents have the right to bring their child home as long as there is not a court order specifying otherwise.
- Parents have two options for reporting their child to the police if they leave home: as a runaway or as a missing person. A minor who is 16 years old or younger can be reported as both a runaway and a missing person. For a minor who is 17 years old, some police departments will take one report but not the other, both reports, or neither report, depending on the policy of the police department. In both cases, the police have the authority to find the minor and return him or her to their parents or legal guardian. However, in the case of 17 year olds, police are not required to return the youth to their parents if they determine that the youth is safe. Some police departments will also take a missing person report on an 18 year-old who is still attending high school, since he or she is still considered a minor.Parents have the option to access services in the STAR program. STAR or, Services To At Risk Youth, is a free
- statewide service that provides crisis intervention services to youth and families in every county of Texas. This may be an option for some families to help resolve problems that may be causing the teen to runaway. STAR programs can also provide or refer to youth shelters for runaway youth.
- What risk does a person assume if they house a runaway?
- It is considered a crime to harbor a runaway child if the person knows or should know that the child is under 18 and has left home without the consent of their parents or guardians.The person “harboring” can be charged with the crime of interfering with child custody or harboring a runaway.