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Are Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Crimes?

Law Office of Joshua S. Reed Dec. 7, 2022

When parents have a child, they are equally financially responsible for the child. They must provide and care for the child and offer guidance and supervision. Until the child reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in Tennessee, the parents are responsible for that child. Parenting is a huge responsibility, and for some parents, it’s filled with trouble along the way.  

Last year, there were more than 13,000 juvenile arrests for crimes committed in Tennessee. Those minors were under the care, supervision, and responsibility of someone, be it a parent, guardian, or state system. When a child breaks the law, are the parents responsible as well? 

At the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed, we see a lot of parents struggling with children who get into trouble with the law. Although our criminal defense attorneys don’t represent children in juvenile court, we do represent their parents when they are held responsible for their child’s crimes throughout the state, including Knoxville, Farragut, Anderson County, Maryville County, Oak Ridge County, and the surrounding areas.   

Parental Responsibility Laws 

Tennessee law addresses parental responsibility for their minor child’s crimes. Sections in the statute deal with recovery for injury or damage by a juvenile, circumstances under which parents can be held financially liable, and limits on the monetary damages they may have to pay.  

State law also holds parents for their child’s education, including their regular attendance. Truancy laws punish children and their parents if the child violates them.  

Parents aren’t the only ones who can be held responsible for a child’s crimes. Those with legal authority over the child, such as guardians, are likewise subject to responsibility under the law.  

When Are Parents Held Responsible? 

Parents are held responsible depending on three main things: their knowledge of the crime or likelihood their child would commit the crime; there were injuries or damages involved in the crime; and/or when truancy (not going to school) is involved.  

Parental Knowledge 

The parent or guardian can be held liable if they knew or should have known their child was likely to cause injury or damage, based on prior behavior or knowledge. That is because as a parent, you are required by the law to exercise a duty of reasonable care to protect others from the actions of your child. For example, your child sprayed graffiti on your backyard fence. You failed to secure the spray paint in the garage, and your child sprays graffiti on a neighbor’s house. You would be responsible due to that negligence. 

Injury or Damages 

The parental responsibility law holds parents and guardians responsible when their child’s willful or malicious acts cause injury to someone or damage to someone’s property. This means the child intended to cause damage and injury. There is a distinction between willful and malicious and unintended or accidental.  

The victim of your child, whether it be an individual, governmental entity, religious, or other organization, can sue for compensatory damages for which you will be responsible since your child does not have the financial means or liability insurance to pay them. 


Moreover, under Tennessee’s truancy laws, you are responsible for your child’s education and can therefore be held responsible when they violate the law. So long as the child has no mental or physical disabilities which inhibit their ability to receive an education, they must attend school.  

Initial unexcused absences from school are usually dealt with by counseling the child and parents. The child could be required to perform community service or other measures if the behavior continues.  

With more absences, the school can report the truancy to the juvenile court for intervention. They face expulsion or the loss of their driver’s license, but a parent may face a criminal misdemeanor charge for educational neglect.  

What Consequences Might Parents Face? 

If the victims of a child’s willful or malicious behavior resulting in personal injury or property damage sue the child, parents may be ordered to pay up to $10,000 in damages. The damages would include economic damages suffered by the victim, such as medical expenses or repair or replacement of damaged property. The parent must also compensate the victim for the costs they incurred to sue.  

If a parent is charged with misdemeanor educational neglect, they could be fined up to $50 and face up to 30 days in jail for each and every day their child was absent from school. 

Don’t Face Challenges Alone 

Parenting can always be lonely work, but never more so than if your have an unruly and uncooperative child. You don’t have to face the challenges raised by your child’s bad behavior all on your own. As your criminal defense attorneys, we can help.  

If you are a parent or guardian facing potential penalties for your child’s crimes in Knoxville, Farragut, or the surrounding counties in Tennessee, turn to the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed. Reach out today to schedule an appointment with our team. You aren’t alone.