1) What do they mean by parents? What if my kid doesnt live with me?

A typical law in one state singles out parents who have parental rights and responsibilities for the child and are [his]residential parents and legal custodians . Looks like the custodial parent is spotlighted here.

2) How can a law hold me responsible for something I had nothing to do with?

Welcome to the land of vicarious responsibility. This makes you responsible for an act you may not have committed because of your relationship with the person who DID commit it. In this case, your position as parent makes you responsible for certain dumb, antisocial acts of your offspring.

3) Dont you have to be neglectful or abusive or something to be hit with the tab for your kids irresponsibility?

No. Unfortunately, its not how good you are at your job or the rules youve set down that count, its the damage your child inflicts on someone else. Your responsibility comes from the parent-child relationship and the expectation that you have control over your child and are the first line of defense against societal meltdown.

4) What types of acts does the law cover ?

The laws vary from state to state, but many cover such things as vandalism to government or school property (including every childs fantasy, spray-painting his own school). Defacement or destruction of national and state flags, cemetery headstones, public monuments/historical markers. Also, property destroyed in hate crimes, based on race or religion, such as ransacking a synogogue. Personal injury in connection with any of these may also be included.

5) I still dont understand how they can charge me with something when I didnt destroy a thing. Wheres the logic?

Blame that quaint assumption: that you, the parent, can exercise reasonable control over your child and provide him/her with age-appropriate supervision. The state will sanction both you and your child when that laser pointer or spray-paint can shows that no ones minding the store. Personal responsibility is making a comeback, and the parent/child team is taking the heat.

6) What on earth is joint and several liability? It sounds like a disease.

It simply means that the $1000 medical bill can be collected from your familys assets as a whole, your childs savings bonds, or part from each. Since there are two parties responsible, the victim has a better chance of recovering.

7) How long am I on the hook for my childs lack of judgment/impulsiveness?

Vicarious liability doesnt kick in until the state feels the child has the ability to decide to do or not to do something. This is usually around age eight. From that point on, parents are liable until their child reaches the age of majority (adulthood), usually 18.

8) Is there any point before 18 when I might be safe?

Yes, if your child becomes emancipated, which means he or she is considered an adult for purposes of the law. For example, if your child marries at 16 and moves in with a spouse, or joins the Navy and sails around the world for the next five years, he or she could be considered an emancipated minor even though still younger than18. This process isnt automatic a child must be declared emancipated by court decree.

9) Give me more examples of situations in which I, the parent, could get one of those phone calls and have to reach for the wallet.

Heres one: Your 12-year-old, always a car nut, jumps into a Jeep with keys still in the ignition. Not having yet enrolled in drivers ed, he loses control, veers off the road and slams into someone's house. Youre sued by both the Jeeps owner (which your insurance company may deal with) and the owner of the house.

10) We know boys will be boys (and girls can be just as nasty especially on competitive soccer teams.) What are some situations in which stressed-out parents wont be subject to financial ruin?

Parental liability laws zero in on intentional, malicious or reckless behavior. If somethings truly an accident or was unforeseeable, the law normally wont apply.

For example, your daughter, trading Pokemon cards during school recess, swipes Charmander from a friend, and playfully runs away with it. As she rounds a corner, she smacks head-first into Karen, who was strolling peacefully to the jungle gym. Karens glasses break and she suffers a bloody nose. Since the damage occurred because of an accident, the statute wont normally cover it.

Another: Your son, the chocoholic, invites friends over after school. Ravenous, he grabs a selection of Hershey and Pepperidge Farm goodies, packed with chocolate chunks, and piles them onto the kitchen table. A neighbors three-year-old son, severely allergic to chocolate, wanders in and nibbles on some forbidden bounty, ending up in the emergency room with hives and shortness of breath. Since your son didnt intentionally poison a neighbor (and the boys caretaker might have been more attentive), you might be off the hook.

11) My mind is starting to wander. Can you give us some final advice other than hope this never happens to you?

Supervise your kids (no matter how old and cool) and communicate clear limitations often. Any kid responsible under a parental liability law is old enough to grasp the idea. Explain that YOU could be charged with (and made to pay for) something THEY did, which would make you even angrier than a D in algebra. Provide examples and a simple explanation of why the law blames parents and kids for something that only the child may have done.

If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself on the receiving end of a personal injury or property damage claim, call your favorite lawyer and withhold your kids allowance until he or she is eligible for Social Security.