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Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor- Are You Responsible for Your Child's Bad Acts?

Part of the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Code is to “emphasize the accountability and responsibility of both the parent and the child for the child’s conduct.” Tex. Fam. Code § 51.01(2)(C). A parent is per se liable for his or her child’s actions, so if the child’s delinquent behavior caused harm, the parent may be ordered to pay for it. See In re D.M., 191 S.W.3d 381 (Tex. App.—Austin 2006, pet. denied). To that end, when a court determines that a child has engaged in delinquent conduct, the court may next turn to the child’s parents and ask if they have contributed to their child’s behavior. Tex. Fam. Code § 54.041. Yet if the court finds that the parent “made a reasonable good faith effort” to prevent he child’s delinquent conduct and that the child continued to engage in delinquent conduct despite the parents’ efforts, the parent may be excused from liability. Tex. Fam. Code § 54.041(g). Here are two cases that discuss parents’ efforts and whether or not the parents have contributed to their children’s delinquency.

In In re D.M., the child set fire to a couch at school, which ended up causing over $100,000 in damages. In re D.M., 191 S.W.3d at 385. The court found that the child’s parents had not made good faith efforts to prevent their child’s delinquent behavior and ordered them to pay $25,000 in restitution. On appeal, the parents argued there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that they had contributed to their son’s behavior. The court disagreed, noting that the parents sought to shield their son from taking responsibility. They had tried to blame the school for the fire and believed that their son should be liable only for the damage he intended to cause—i.e., the sofa—rather than for the damage he actually caused by the fire. There was further no evidence that his parents had attempted to get him to stop playing with fire despite the fact that he had been doing it for years.

By contrast, in In re S.J.C., 304 S.W.3d 563, 569 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2010, no pet.), the appellate court found that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that the child’s mother had contributed to his delinquency. There, the child vandalized the school’s bathroom with a permanent marker. The child’s probation officer noted that the child’s mother “made sure the juvenile was involved in positive activities and maintained contact with school officials.” Id. at 565. While the mother had difficultly emotionally handling her son’s hearing, the officer found that the mother had not contributed to her son’s delinquent behavior and attributed the incident to peer pressure. Id. at 565.

Despite the probation officer’s testimony, the trial court found that the mother had contributed to her son’s delinquent conduct, though the case is unclear as to why exactly. On appeal, the prosecutor argued that the mother’s refusal to sign the trial court’s judgment was evidence that she had contributed to her son’s delinquency. However, the appellate court noted that the mother refused to sign the judgment only after the finding that she had contributed to her son’s delinquent behavior and that therefore such refusal could not have contributed to the even that occurred months earlier. Further, evidence of depression or difficulty emotionally handling the legal process or accepting that her son was in trouble is not evidence that she had contributed to his delinquency.

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