Read an Excerpt
Financial Responsibilities of Teens
Excerpted from Teen Rights (and Responsibilities), 2E by Traci Truly ©2005
Parents are under a legal duty to provide the basic needs for their children. The basics include food, shelter, clothing, education, and medical care. This does not mean that your parents have to buy you the most expensive or most fashionable clothes. You will note that cars are not found on the list of basics. The obligation extends to what is necessary, and not what might be desirable. Because the duty to support you ends when you become an adult, your parents will generally not be legally obligated to pay for you to attend college.
All of these obligations continue only as long as the child remains legally dependent on the parent. Once you reach the age of majority as determined by the laws of your state (usually 18), your parents' legal duty has ended and you are now responsible for yourself. Your parents' duty will also end if you go to court and become legally emancipated or if your status makes you a legal adult. (Emancipation is a procedure in which a judge signs an order making you an adult even if you are younger than the age of majority in your state.) For instance, in most states, getting married emancipates you so that you are treated as an adult. Joining the military also has the same result.
The parental obligation continues even if you do not live at home. Parents have to pay child support if their children are committed to a state juvenile correction facility or other placement outside the home. Your parents cannot get out of the duty to support you just by throwing you out of the house, either.
GETTING A JOB
Although your parents are obligated to support you, they can make you get a job. As your parents, they have a constitutional right to control your upbringing. If they think it is good for you to work, they can make you go. If you have a job, however, you do not necessarily have a legal right to keep the money that you earn. Your parents have that right unless your state has a law, as many do, that allows minors to keep the money they earn. Even if you get to keep the money, your parents still have the legal right to discipline you and to direct your moral and religious training. That means they can tell you how to spend your money and impose discipline on you if you disobey their instructions. If you parents do not want you to work, they can legally forbid you from getting a job.
CHORES AND ALLOWANCE
Another right that goes along with being a parent is the right to the services and earnings of their children. They can also make you mow the lawn, clean your room, and wash the car. They are not legally obligated to pay you for these things or other things that you do around the house. There is no law that entitles you to receive any specific amount of money from your parents. They can determine how to provide you with the things you need. They decide how much, if any, money to give you to spend on yourself. The only limitation is that they cannot do anything that would constitute child abuse.
ACTS OF TEENS
Regardless of how old a person is, he or she is responsible for his or her own actions. Even if you are under 18 and your actions cause damages to another person, you can be ordered by a judge to pay for those damages. This would mean that the judge would enter a judgment against you. In some states, if you have a job, a monthly amount of money can be withheld from your paycheck and sent to the person to whom you owe the money. This is called wage garnishment. Of course, you may not have any money or assets to pay a judgment.
An unpaid judgment will have a negative impact on your credit rating, and the judgment can be renewed until it is paid. Your credit rating reflects your payment history for all your bills. The current trend is to use something called credit scoring, which is where a potential creditor assigns a number to your credit history. This number is affected by the amount of overall debt you have and your history of paying on time or missing payments. The number is then used to decide whether you get credit on future items or not. A poor credit rating can keep you from being able to buy a car, renting an apartment, getting a job, or getting insurance.
In some instances, parents can also be financially responsible for damages caused by their minor children. Some states have specific statutes that make parents responsible for property damages caused by their children; the extent of the liability and the upper limit of liability vary from state to state. These laws generally cover willful and intentional acts by minors that result in either property damage or personal injury.
Some states limit the recovery under these laws to governmental entities while other states allow anyone who has been damaged to proceed under the statute. Most states have some version of this law, which originally became popular as a way of controlling gang activity.
Parents can be held financially responsible if they provide the method by which the child causes harm. For instance, for providing a gun or by being careless about storing guns they own.
Some states allow parents to be sued for failing to control their children. In order for this to apply, the parent must have some reason to know that the child was likely to do whatever it was he or she did to cause the damage. If the parent has taken reasonable steps to control the child and prevent the harm caused, they will not be found liable.
Parents can also be financially responsible for the damages if the parent told the child to commit the act that caused the harm, or consented to the act. If the parent participates in the act, they will be liable for the damages on that basis.
Some courts have allowed parents to be fined for their children's curfew violations. Other states and courts have allowed parents to be held criminally responsible for the acts of their children if the parent instructed the child to do the act or the parent consented.
In one case from Alaska, the state tried to hold the parents responsible for an assault committed by their 17-year-old child.
These judges let the parents off the hook by ruling that they could not have foreseen that their son would steal a gun and kill someone. It also made a difference that the parents had taken many steps to get their son's tendency to engage in violent behavior under control.
Another court in Nebraska refused to hold the parents liable for an assault committed by their child.
The case that causes the financial liability may be part of some other proceeding, just like the William George T. case was part of the proceeding against the juvenile. It can also be done as a separate proceeding, which will mean that the family will incur additional attorney's fees.
As you can see, there can be substantial financial consequences to the whole family when a teenager causes damage to someone or his or her property.
When a teen is accused of violating a criminal law, there are several areas of cost for the family. If the teen is found to have committed a crime and placed either on adult or juvenile probation, there will be monthly probation fees to pay. This amount varies from case to case and state to state. In some instances in juvenile court, the judge will take the financial circumstances of the family into consideration when setting the fee. In adult court, the fee will likely be set by the county and financial considerations are not much of a factor. In adult court, there will also be a fine to pay. Restitution is also a possibility in both instances. If the teen is over eighteen, the parents have no legal obligation to pay these costs. In juvenile court, both the parents and the child are responsible unless the judge specifically makes the juvenile responsible.
If a juvenile is sent to a placement outside the home, the state pays the costs associated with the placement. Since parents have a legal duty to support their children, the juvenile court has the authority to order the parents to make child support payments to the state while the juvenile is in the placement.
Truancy (skipping school) also creates financial obligations for the family of the truant teen. Parents can be fined. Usually, the fine is set at some dollar amount for each day the child is absent from school without a valid, approved excuse. Since habitually truant teens can end up being processed in the juvenile justice system, the costs previously discussed will also apply.
Another significant cost to these proceedings is the cost for legal representation. If you qualify for a court appointed attorney, the judge can order you to reimburse a portion of the fees as part of the disposition of the case.
There will generally be more than one court appearance required. In juvenile court, the parents are required to be present in court for every hearing. The parents will have to miss work in addition to the other costs involved.