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Are Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Crimes?

Attorneys at Law Timlin & Rye, P.C.  May 28, 2024

One of the most distressing situations a parent can face is discovering their child has engaged in criminal activity. This unsettling reality often leaves parents questioning their own responsibilities and potential legal consequences.  

In this post, we at Attorneys at Law Timlin & Rye, P.C. aim to shed light on parental responsibility laws, particularly how they operate in Colorado. We’ll also discuss how our experienced team can support you through such trying times. 

Understanding Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility refers to the legal obligation parents have to support, manage, and control their children. In Colorado, this concept extends beyond mere care and maintenance to include liability for the actions of minor children in certain circumstances. The state's laws, codified under the Colorado Revised Statutes, articulate that parents can be held accountable for the willful or malicious actions of their children that result in damage or loss to others. 

Parental responsibility laws generally fall into two categories: civil liability and criminal liability. 

  • Civil liability for children’s acts: Under civil liability, parents may be required to compensate victims for damages caused by their child’s wrongful acts. This can include property damage, theft, or personal injury. The idea is to provide a remedy to the victim while promoting responsible parenting. 

  • Criminal liability for children’s acts: Criminal liability for parents is less common but can occur under specific circumstances. In some jurisdictions, parents may face criminal charges if they contributed to the delinquency of a minor or failed to prevent foreseeable criminal behavior. Examples might include neglect or knowingly allowing illegal activities to occur. 

Potential Consequences for Violating Parental Responsibility Law

In Colorado, parents can be held financially responsible for the actions of their minor children if those actions result in damage to property or personal injury. This liability is typically capped at a certain dollar amount for actual damages, as outlined in the Colorado Revised Statutes.   

Beyond financial responsibility, while it is less common, there can be broader legal implications depending on the severity and nature of the crime committed by the child. For instance, if a parent knowingly contributes to the child's delinquent behavior, they might face separate charges. 

Colorado's Parental Responsibility Laws

In Colorado, parental responsibility laws are designed to balance the need for accountability with fairness to parents. Colorado law typically considers minors under the age of 18 when evaluating parental responsibility. However, the specific age can vary depending on the nature of the offense and the applicable statute. These laws outline specific circumstances under which parents may be held liable for their child’s actions:

  • When a minor child causes property damage or bodily injury: Under Colorado Revised Statutes Section 13-21-107, parents can be held liable for property damage or bodily injury caused by their minor child. The law states that parents may be required to pay for damages up to a specified monetary limit, currently set at $3,500. 

  • Parental responsibility for a child's shoplifting: Shoplifting is a common offense among minors. In Colorado, parents can be held financially responsible for items stolen by their child. Retailers can pursue civil claims to recover the value of the stolen goods and additional penalties. 

  • Common law may still place responsibility on parents in Colorado: In addition to statutory laws, common law principles may also impose responsibilities on parents. Under common law, parents have a duty to exercise reasonable control over their children to prevent foreseeable harm to others. Failure to do so can result in liability for negligent supervision. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Parental Responsibility for Children's Crimes

Understanding the nuances of parental responsibility in Colorado's legal framework is essential for parents and guardians. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions on this topic.  

Can parents be sued for their child’s criminal acts, and if so, what defenses can parents use against such lawsuits?

Parents can be sued for damages resulting from their child’s criminal acts, especially under civil liability laws. This includes compensation for property damage, theft, and personal injury.  

As far as defenses are concerned, parents can potentially argue that they exercised reasonable supervision and control over their child, or that the child’s actions were unforeseeable and beyond their control. If you are facing a lawsuit over your child’s criminal acts, we urge you to seek experienced legal counsel to help build your defense.  

Under what circumstances might a parent's responsibility be waived, and what factors are considered when deciding whether to do so?

Parental responsibility may be waived or mitigated under several circumstances. Key considerations include the parent's own conduct and the degree to which they contributed to the minor's ability to commit the offense.  

For example, if a parent was diligent in supervising the child and took reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm, these factors might reduce their liability. The court typically evaluates the individual circumstances of each case, considering factors like the parent's effort to correct the child's behavior, the presence of any disabilities that might affect the child's conduct, and the parent's financial situation. 

What steps can a parent take to minimize their potential liability and protect themselves legally if their child is involved in criminal activity?

To minimize potential liability, parents should take proactive steps including: 

  • Supervising the child closely: Ensure that you are aware of your child’s activities and who they are with, especially if they have shown tendencies toward problematic behavior. 

  • Seeking professional help: If behavioral issues arise, consulting with psychologists, counselors, or legal experts might provide strategies to address these challenges effectively. 

  • Educating the child about legal consequences: Clearly communicate the legal and personal consequences of criminal behavior to your child. 

  • Implementing secure storage practices: Securely store any items that could potentially lead to legal issues if misused by a minor, such as firearms, alcohol, or prescription medication. 

  • Documenting efforts to prevent misconduct: Keep records of any steps taken to supervise and discipline your child, as these may be useful in demonstrating due diligence in parenting responsibilities. 

Parental involvement and early intervention can help steer children away from criminal choices. If legal issues arise, we strongly advise consulting with a local attorney who practices juvenile law to understand the specific obligations and potential defenses related to parental responsibility. 

Obtain Reliable Legal Support

Navigating parental responsibility laws and juvenile delinquency can be overwhelming. At Attorneys at Law Timlin & Rye, P.C., we are committed to providing compassionate and aggressive legal support for families in these difficult situations. Our nearly 80 years of combined experience in criminal law, juvenile law, and family law equips us to offer the guidance you need. 

If you’re in the Denver area, Adams County, Arapahoe County, Jefferson County, or Douglas County, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Schedule a free consultation and take the first step toward resolving your legal concerns with confidence. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you navigate parental responsibility laws and protect your family's interests. We’re here to listen, support, and advocate for you every step of the way.