Family Law

The Legal Rights and Responsibilities of a Parent

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As a parent, you are used to making decisions for your minor child and taking care of your minor child. As long as all goes well, you probably don't think much about your legal rights and responsibilities as a parent. But these rights and responsibilities do exist.

Who Is a Parent?

Every state has laws that establish the rights and duties of parents. The definition of the term "parent" though, is not always the same. In most states, a child can only have two parents at a time. If the child is adopted, the birth parents no longer have rights or duties. In a few states, including Alaska and Nebraska, a stepparent is also considered a parent.

Legal Rights of Parents

All parents have certain rights. Parents have the right to select a name for the child. They have the right to spend time with the child and to make decisions about the child's residence, education, religious training, and legal matters. Until a child reaches the age of majority, parents have the right to consent to medical and dental care, marriage, and enlistment in the military. Parents also have a right to the child's earnings as well as the right to inherit from the child. If there are two parents, they share these rights.

Legal Responsibilities of Parents

Parents have the duty to care for, protect and reasonably discipline their child. They must provide support, including food, clothing, housing, education, health care and dental care. Parents have the duty to manage a child's money unless someone else has been assigned that responsibility by the court. Most states require parents to support the child financially at least through high school, but a few require support through college.

A Court Can Modify Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Courts don't get involved with family life unless something goes wrong and it is in a child's best interests to do so. If the parents are getting a divorce, for example, the judge will make specific orders about custody, visitation, child support, and who can make important decisions on the child's behalf.

If a child has been abused or neglected by a parent, the court can limit that parent's rights or, in extreme cases, take them away altogether. A parent whose rights have been terminated by the court may also no longer have responsibility for that child.

A Family Law Attorney Can Help

The law surrounding parental rights and responsibilities is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law attorney.

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