Who is a Parent?

Each state has its own laws governing parental rights and responsibilities, but generally, parents are the individuals that have legal custody of a child. A child can’t have more than two legal parents at a time. For example, the parents of an adopted child are the child’s legal custodians, although they aren’t the biological parents. A biological parent’s legal rights to a child are severed upon adoption.

In other cases, a parent may lose legal rights to a child if a court terminates the parent’s rights for extreme neglect or violence toward the child. In cases where one or both parents’ rights are terminated, a custodian or legal guardian may be appointed to serve as the child’s parent. Whether a child’s legal parents are biological or court-appointed, they enjoy the same rights and responsibilities under the law.

What are Parental Rights?

Specifically, parental rights include:

  • right to physical custody, which means reasonable visitation with a child and regular contact
  • right to legal custody, meaning the ability to make major decisions about the child’s health, education, and religious upbringing
  • right to pass property to a child via gift or inheritance, and
  • right to a child’s earnings and to inherit from child in the event of death.

Parents can share these rights, although divorced or separated parents may have limitations placed on their legal rights over a child. For example, in some cases, a judge will grant legal or physical custody to only one parent.

What are a Parent’s Legal Responsibilities to a Child?

Parents must meet their children’s basic needs for food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education.

A parent must meet a child’s basic needs and parent in a way that serves the child’s best interests. Parents also have a financial duty to support their children, which typically continues until each child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. In most cases, a parent doesn’t have a financial responsibility to a child over 18, unless the child has special needs.

A parent must serve a child’s emotional and physical needs and protect the child from abuse from the other parent or another household member. Additionally, parents must meet their children’s basic needs for food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education.

Make sure their children attend school regularly and on time and, when children are absent, let schools know why. Tell school officials about any concerns or complaints in a respectful and timely manner. Work with principals and school staff to address any academic or behavioral problems their children may experience. Support City Schools by being a role model for their children, talking with their children about school and expected behavior. Read and become familiar with the policies of the Board, CEO administrative regulations and this Code of Conduct. Give updated contact information to City Schools and their children’s individual school. Give their children a space to complete their homework or allow participation in after-school programs that permit the completion of homework. Be respectful and courteous to staff, other parents, guardians and students while on school premises

Can a Court Change My Rights and Responsibilities?

Sometimes, a court may alter a parent’s rights and responsibilities to a child. For example, if the child’s parents are divorcing, a judge will make specific orders about custody, visitation, and child support payments. In some cases, a judge will order a custody evaluation to determine if one parent should have more custody or legal responsibility over a child. Even if one parent is obligated to pay child support, both parents still have an ongoing duty to support their child. Finally, a custody order may give both parents legal rights over a child, but can grant the custodial parent the final say if the parents can’t agree.

Under certain circumstances, courts can limit parental rights, for example, by ordering supervised visitation,which means that a neutral third party supervises all visits between the parent and child. Parents don’t usually lose all parental rights, except in the most extreme cases of abuse or neglect. When a court permanently terminates a parent’s rights, the parent’s financial responsibilities over the child are also terminated. If you have questions or concerns about your parental rights and responsibilities, ask a local family law attorney for advice.