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Parental Responsibility Act

The question that most often comes up regarding parental responsibility for a child’s criminal behavior is, “Can I be sued by the victim for my child’s behavior?”  We have addressed that question on our injury blog here:  Parent Liability for the Negligence of a Child in New Mexico.

In a nutshell, the answer is yes the parent can be sued but liability is limited in most cases to only $4000.  As such, the question the parents might ask is whether they can be hauled into juvenile criminal court because of the conduct of their child.

The answer to this is a qualified No.  No, a parent cannot be hauled into juvenile criminal court for the conduct of a child.   But a parent can be hauled into juvenile criminal court for the parent’s own behavior.

Under the New Mexico Children’s Code, a parent made be made a party to a juvenile criminal action.  In juvenile court, this is referred to as being made a party to the petition (criminal complaint).

Under the Parental Responsibility Act of the Children’s Code, the parent is not made a party for the child’s conduct but for the parent’s conduct.  It may even be that the parent is made a party for a failure to act such as by failing to provide a safe and healthy environment or failing to properly supervise the child.

The court may find that it is the action or inaction of the parent that is leading to or contributing to the delinquency of the child.  In those cases, the parent is joined or named in the petition and thereafter falls under the jurisdiction of the court.

There are countless ways that a court may find that it is necessary to join the parent.  The issues could involve drugs, alcohol, mental illness, domestic violence, or other issues in the home that must be addressed to afford the child the best chance of success on juvenile probation.

In order to achieve the goal of rehabilitation in the New Mexico juvenile justice system, the judge may, by way of the Parental Responsibility Act, order the parents to do a variety of things.  This includes ordering the parents to participate in the child’s probation, treatment and counseling.  The court may order the parent to participate in the child’s counseling and treatment even when the child is committed to a juvenile detention facility.  The court may also order the parents to undergo their own treatment and counseling.

The Parental Responsibility Act specifically states that a parent is not liable for fines imposed against the child.  However, this does not mean the parent may not be fined directly.

The court’s orders against the parent are enforceable via the court‘s contempt powers.  The courts may monitor the parent’s activities for compliance with orders on counseling and treatment and participation in the child’s probation.  If the parent is not compliant, the parent can be held in contempt.

In case the parent is held in contempt, the parent can be fined.  Worse yet, a contempt finding can carry jail time.  The courts have the authority to jail anyone held in contempt for so long as it takes to cure (fix) the contempt.  In other words, the parent in the worst case situation could be jailed for an indefinite and considerable length of time

Having said all that, it is very rare that parents are made a party to a petition, at least not in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho.  A parent who is made a party has likely engaged in some pretty atrocious behavior.  Often times, those same parents have their own criminal legal proceedings with which to deal.

On the other hand, parents are expected to support the child throughout the juvenile justice process.  This includes providing parental supervision.  The parent will likely not be joined for failures.  Much more likely, the child will suffer when the court determines the only possible recourse to be commitment of the child.