Raising a child may take a village, but the village starts in the home. Both married and unmarried parents are responsible for raising children in a safe and stable home. What matters is that both parents consider the best interest of the child in making decisions that affect their family.
We'll briefly discuss the four types of parenting and review parenting, family law, and parental rights. The Parenting Legal Tips page contains other useful links for additional information and legal help.
Types of Parenting
In the 1960s, child psychologist Diana Baumrind proposed three basic parenting types. Later experts added a fourth type:
Authoritarian parents demand obedience from their children and exert high control over them. Children must obey strict rules. Parents use harsh punishment, including corporal punishment, to enforce their rules.
Authoritative parents set less strict boundaries than authoritarian parents. They encourage flexibility and compromise. Rules have clear consequences, not because "I said so."
Permissive parents set few rules and are bad at enforcement. They prioritize keeping their children happy over setting boundaries. Children decide things for themselves, but parents may shield them from serious consequences.
Neglectful parents seem to disregard their children altogether. They are sometimes called "uninvolved" parents and provide little more than food and shelter, if that. These parents may have some underlying mental or physical issues of their own.
Most parents tend towards authoritative parenting. The authoritarian "father knows best" style is no longer the primary parenting style. Families realize it is better to relax control as the children grow older.
Legal Duties of Parenting
Parents must provide their children with the basic necessities of life. The media often reports horrific stories of parents who failed to give their children food, shelter, or clothing, either deliberately or due to untreated mental illness.
Parents can lose child custody or have their parental rights terminated for neglect or abuse. Child neglect includes:
- Physical neglect: This includes failing to provide adequate food, clothing, and shelter. It also includes failing to supervise children as needed.
- Educational neglect: Parents may be liable for ignoring their children's education. Even parents who want to homeschool their children must follow their state's educational requirements.
- Emotional/psychological neglect: This covers everything from harsh non-physical punishments to forbidding the child from joining school clubs. This type of neglect or abuse often goes along with physical abuse.
- Medical neglect: Failing to provide necessary healthcare can be neglect or abuse. There may be religious exceptions, such as Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions. But in general, failing to provide medical care is parental neglect.
There are available resources for families unable to provide basic necessities for their children. Self-help centers offer support services for new families and those in difficult financial circumstances. Parents who need childcare referrals or other legal advice can get help from these centers.
Family Law and Parental Rights
Many issues surrounding parents and the law arise when two parents separate. Family law cases are the most contentious of all legal matters because children are involved. Custody issues and child support arouse intense emotions in parents, leading to poor decisions. But if both parents remember to keep the children's well-being in mind, it can work out for the best.
Co-Parenting Tips and Tricks
Co-parenting describes how parents who live apart raise their children together. It does not have to be an adversarial relationship. Custody cases do not need to be fights over visitation and child support. Here are a few tips to consider for parents who are separating, divorcing, or who live apart:
- Agree to share parenting time: If both parents can agree on a preferred visitation schedule, the family court judge is likely to grant it. Keep it as close to 50/50 as possible. Give your child's school and activity schedule priority.
- Make pickups and drop-offs part of the court order: Even amicable visitations have returned to court, with both sides arguing about late transfers. It's always better to have the times and days over a judge's signature instead of saying you'll "work it out later."
- Make allowances for things to change: Your former partner may have a significant other someday. Your child may become a teenager who wants to spend time with friends instead of parents. Be sure the custody order allows for these life transitions, or you may find yourself back in court again.
Not all domestic violence involves spouses. It can involve violence against children. Or it may involve violence by children against their parents or siblings. Domestic violence of these types is confusing for everyone. Sibling abuse is distinguishable from ordinary sibling rivalry. Parents may be afraid to report an abusive child. They may fear losing all their children as abusive or neglectful parents.
The first time a parent suspects a child may be abusing their siblings or acting hostile towards the parents, they should contact an experienced family psychologist. Don't wait until things have spiraled out of control. Help is available for these rare and frightening situations.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary. Parents most often terminate their parental rights when surrendering their child for adoption. This process begins before the child is born and is a decision the parents make in the child's best interest. During the process, the parents have the right to maintain a relationship with the child and the adoptive parents.
The courts handle involuntary termination. Each state has guidelines for the involuntary termination of parental rights. The court will determine that the parent can no longer provide for the child's welfare, and the state will step in. Grounds for involuntary termination may include:
- Child abuse, neglect, or abandonment
- Incarceration that will last past the child's age of majority
- Long-term alcoholism or substance abuse, usually coupled with an inability or unwillingness to accept rehabilitation
- Conviction for sexual assault or violent felony
- Failure to provide financial support without cause
The courts will not terminate parental rights without due process. Courts attempt to locate absent parents. Incarcerated parents may return to court and be given counsel if they wish to maintain contact with their children.
However, children should have the support and guidance of both parents. If both parents cannot provide it, the court acts as the child's parent.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You
If you have other questions about parenting law, you should contact a family law attorney in your area. General information is available from family law services. An attorney can answer your specific questions and explain state law on adoption, divorce, and your duties as a parent.