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At What Age Is a Parent Not Legally Responsible?

Parenting is a sacred duty, and the decisions you make help in shaping the future of your children. It's your duty to guide your child from when they're born up to when they reach a certain age. Parental responsibilities are mutually shared between you and your partner in marriage, without the need for a legal document.

However, in the case of divorce or separation, you and your partner have to agree on your duties as far as parental responsibilities are concerned.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is the legal duties, rights, authority, and powers you as a parent have for a child and everything that belongs to them. This power allows you to make significant decisions concerning your child’s care and upbringing like:

  • Their education
  • Religion
  • Choosing, registering, or changing their name
  • Consenting to medical treatment

Parental responsibility also dictates that you meet certain legal conditions:

  • Ensure your child has basic needs like food, shelter, medical care
  • Provide a safe environment free of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse
  • Nurture the self-esteem of your child by accepting them for who they are, supporting, and encouraging them to grow in life
  • Instill in them moral values like patience, honesty, and responsibility while correcting them when wrong
  • Respect their opinion, feelings, and individuality
  • Take a genuine interest in their education and learning, and spend quality time with them to guide them in defining their life goals.

Your legal responsibilities are unlimited, and you must exercise them until your child attains a certain age.

Exceptions to parental responsibility

According to the law in the United States, the birth mother has the first parental responsibility. The father has parental responsibility if:

  • He was married to the child’s mother at the time of birth. Only one set of parents have parental responsibility at any one time.
  • He was not married to the child's mother, but his name appears on the child's birth certificate as the father.

A few exceptions are:

  • If the child was born before a relationship between the mother and the father, the father has to apply for joint parental responsibility through the court.
  • If the mother is a minor when the child is born, a guardian is appointed for the child. Once the mother becomes of age, she can assume full parental responsibility for her child.
  • If an unmarried man marries the child's mother, he can accept parental responsibility and be named as the father in the certificate.
  • The grandparents can volunteer to have parental responsibility if the child’s parents are unfit or dead. Alternatively, the responsibility can be assigned to a certified agency.

Your parental responsibility towards your child is highest when your child is an infant. Gradually, your child grows to a stage where they no longer need support and become independent.

When does parental responsibility end?

Your responsibility towards your child legally ends when your child gets to the age of 18 years. It also ends if they get married or enter into a registered partnership before 18 years. The court may also have the upper hand in terminating your parental responsibility.

The decision by a judge to end your parental responsibility. Your child’s judge can give parental responsibility to someone else with or without your consent. However, they will ask for your opinion on the matter, and a lawyer can help you with the process. If your child is more than 12 years old, the judge will also ask for their opinion. This mostly happens when the welfare of your child is threatened while under your care because of:

  • Abandoning the child
  • Chronic abuse or neglect
  • Long-term mental illness
  • Felony or imprisonment
  • Inability to provide for your child
  • Long-term alcohol abuse

Voluntary termination. You can decide to give up the responsibility of your child. You can do this by surrendering your obligation to a registered adoption agency or by choosing adoptive parents.

Divorce. In the case of a divorce, you and your partner can mutually agree on the parental responsibility of a minor. Otherwise, the court decides while considering the best interest of the child. Your court may assign you:

  • Sole physical custody: the child shall live with you or your spouse, but the legal control rests with both of you. You must get approval by the court while the other parent gets visitation rights.
  • Joint physical custody: the child is under the supervision of both you and your partner.
  • Sole legal custody: only one parent has the authority to make all critical decisions regarding the child. Physical custody also rests with the same parent.
  • Joint legal custody: both you and your partner have a say in making decisions concerning the child. You can share legal custody even if you don't share physical custody.

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