Parental Liability: What Does It Mean?

Parental Liability: What Does It Mean?

by Mar 20, 2019Family Law

If you asked a dozen parents what their greatest concerns about raising children were, it’s doubtful any of their first answers would be “legal liability”. It’s a topic that many parents are vaguely aware of as their children grow up, but sometime get a crash course in when something goes awry.

While parental liability is likely more familiar to parents with troubled teens, it’s a topic that all parents should have at least a basic understanding of.

What Is Parental Liability?

In short, parental liability is the legal term for a parent’s obligation to pay for damages caused by negligent, intentional, or criminal acts committed by their children.

Parental liability typically starts when a child is between eight and ten years old, and ends when they become a legal adult – which in California is eighteen years old. Parental liability includes both civil and criminal acts committed by their children.

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Civil Parental Liability

In most states, including California, parents are responsible for any malicious and/or willful property damage done by their children. This is called civil parental liability.

Under civil parental liability laws, parents are obligated to financially compensate the party harmed by their child’s actions.

Here in California, the state imposes a maximum limit of $25,000 per incident on parents or guardians of children who commit willful or malicious property damage.

Criminal Parental Liability

If a minor commits a crime, parents can be charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”. This includes things like failing to prevent a child from accessing firearms, along with a handful of internet access and computer hacking laws.

When minors are charged with crimes, their cases are usually handled in juvenile court. Juvenile court is different from “adult” court, and parents should work with an attorney to understand the process in more detail.

What Should Parents Do?

From a legal perspective, unless a child has been charged with a civil or criminal violation, there’s nothing for parents to do other than be aware of their own liability.

For parents who feel their children are likely to commit (or have committed) either civil or criminal violations, it’s worth speaking to an attorney to get further clarification about the laws and find out what options may be available to help protect themselves and their children in the future.


At Vonder Haar Law Offices, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 529-3200.

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