Most parents take their responsibilities towards their children very seriously. But what happens when parents neglect their duties or abuse their powers? In this article, we will explore parental responsibility from both a legal and practical standpoint. 

While it is clear that parents have a duty to care for their children, the specifics of what that encompasses aren’t always straightforward. So whether you're a parent yourself or interested in the legal dimensions, keep reading.

The Law & Parents’ Responsibilities

Every state has laws that outline the responsibilities of parents towards their children. These laws are meant to ensure that children receive the appropriate care and upbringing. 

The parents’ first and most important responsibility is to keep their children safe. This means protecting their mental and physical health. Parents must provide a safe home for their children, free from abuse and neglect.

In addition to providing the basics, parents are also responsible for supervising the children and their upbringing - teaching them moral values, mutual respect, and how to behave around other children and adults. This includes teaching them the difference between right and wrong, as well as instilling values such as responsibility.

If a parent is unable to work due to a disability, they may not be able to provide their child with all of the basic life necessities. In such cases, the parental responsibility law states that the other parent, legal guardians, or another relative has to be responsible for supporting the child.

While the specifics of a parent's responsibilities may vary from state to state, these are the general principles that all states follow.

Practical Parenting Responsibilities

From a practical standpoint, parental responsibilities encompass important decisions related to the child. In other words, this is the authority that parents have over their child’s upbringing.  

The many practical responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring access to health care
  • Determining the child’s education
  • Relocating the child
  • Representing the child in legal proceedings
  • Determining what religion the child follows
  • Appointing a guardian for the child

Women who give birth to a child automatically have parental responsibility. Meanwhile, fathers who are in a civil partnership or married to the mother have the same responsibility.

Parental Responsibilities for the Child’s Actions

Parents can be held responsible for their children's actions in a number of ways. Depending on the state, parental liability ends when their son or daughter turns 18 or 21. 

Under criminal law, parents can face charges if their child commits a crime. In most states, the parents can be slapped with gross negligence charges if their child is found to be responsible for delinquent acts. If the prosecution can prove that the parents failed to provide proper supervision and control, they can face jail time and fines.  

Additionally, parents can also be held responsible for their children's actions through civil lawsuits. The parents may be sued for damages if a third party is injured or the child’s actions lead to property damage. This is most common in cases where the parents are found to be negligent in supervising their children.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to speak with an attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

Consequences of Not Fulfilling Your Responsibilities as a Parent

Parental responsibility laws are designed to hold parents accountable and help ensure the well-being of children. When parents fail to fulfill their responsibilities, the consequences can be serious. Children may suffer from neglect or physical and emotional abuse. They may also struggle academically and in other areas of their lives, which leads to even greater consequences. In some cases, parental negligence can even lead to death.

The judicial system takes these matters very seriously. Parents who fail to meet their obligations can face criminal charges. In addition, child protective services may get involved, and parents could lose custody of their children along with visitation rights. It is, therefore, crucial that parents take their responsibilities seriously and do everything they can to ensure their children are safe and healthy.

In some cases, the state may step in to provide assistance to children who are victims of abuse and neglect. This usually involves social workers but can also come in the form of crisis intervention from victim advocates. It goes without saying that this can be a difficult and emotionally charged process.

Losing Custody Over a Child

Child custody battles are among the most difficult experiences a family can go through. When a relationship ends, it's hard enough dealing with the emotional fallout, let alone trying to figure out what's best for your children. 

If you're facing the prospect of losing custody of a child, it's important to seek professional help as soon as possible. A lawyer will be able to advise you on the best course of action and help you navigate your legal options. They can also put you in touch with support services and counseling to help you through this difficult time.

It is also possible for a parent to lose custody of a child if they fail to meet their responsibilities. This usually happens in cases of neglect or abuse, but it can also happen if the parent is unable to provide a safe and healthy home for the child. If this occurs, the child can be placed in foster care or ordered to reside with another relative. In some cases, the parent may be allowed to visit the child, but they will no longer have any legal rights or responsibilities.

Exceptions to Parental Responsibility

While parents are generally responsible for their children, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The most common is when the child is placed in the care of another adult. This can happen if the parent is incarcerated, hospitalized, or otherwise unable to care for the child. In these cases, the other adult will be responsible for the child's well-being.

Another exception to parental responsibility is when the child is emancipated. This usually happens when the child gets married or joins the military. Once a child is emancipated, the parent is no longer responsible for their welfare.

Finally, there are some situations in which the state may assume responsibility for a child. This usually happens when the child is abandoned or abused. In these cases, the state will take custody of the child and place them in foster care.

The best way for parents to protect themselves from legal action is to fulfill their shared parental responsibility. That said, parents are not automatically liable for the negligent or criminal acts of their children.

For example, in the state of California, parents can only be held liable if the prosecution can establish that the defendant witnessed their child’s dangerous behavior or was aware of tendencies that cause harm to others. Furthermore, the parent must be in a position to control the conduct of their child and fail to exercise reasonable care to be convicted of parental liability.      

Parents need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in different states. Those accused of neglect or abuse should immediately seek legal assistance. Additionally, disabled parents’ rights are the same as those of parents with no disabilities.


Parental responsibility established both the rights and duties of the parents with respect to their children. In the eyes of the law, parents are responsible for taking the necessary steps to supervise their children while they are minors. Parents are also given powers to make crucial decisions about the child’s care and upbringing.