Understanding parental responsibility for a minor’s willful misconduct

Willful misconduct is the deliberate act of causing harm or damage to other people or their property. This includes but is not limited to assault, theft and vandalism. When such acts are performed by a minor, under New Mexico law, the parents or custodial guardians of the offender are held accountable for their actions [1].

The extent of parental responsibility

Parents or other legal guardians of minor children in the state of New Mexico are duty bound to provide the children in their care with appropriate food, shelter, protection from harm, access to medical treatment as required, and education. They are also obligated to ensure that their children do not cause harm or damage to other people or their property. 

Parental liability laws are designed to make parents or legal guardians financially culpable for the willful misconduct of their minor children, up to a maximum cost of $4,000, not including the court costs and third-party attorney fees that may also be payable in certain circumstances. The only exclusion is foster parents, who do not bear financial liability for the actions of their charges.

This financial liability is limited to actual, quantifiable losses that arise from the actions of the minor, including the cost of medical bills, any lost income and the repair or replacement of damaged property. Losses such as pain and suffering cannot be financially measured and are therefore excluded from the financial liability.

Considerations when determining parental liability

In determining the extent of a parent or guardian’s liability when it comes to the actions of their minor child, the court of New Mexico will consider a number of factors. These include local legal precedents, the age of the child, the nature of the willful misconduct, the impact on the victim, and whether the parents could reasonably have foreseen such an event occurring due to the propensity of their child to commit this type of behavior. 

The courts will determine whether the offense will be handled as a civil or criminal matter and may investigate the extent to which the parents or guardians took reasonable precautions to control their child’s behavior or prevent their actions. If it can be demonstrated that the parents were aware of the child’s propensity for such misdemeanors but took no action to prevent it from impacting others, this strengthens the case for them to accept parental liability for their child’s actions.

Preventative actions include the setting of clear boundaries and behavioral expectations, supervising their child’s activities, fostering two-way open communication and discussing the potential implications of making poor choices. Putting these preventative actions in place is a parent’s moral duty but will also reduce the chance of a child committing willful misconduct in the first place.

How to proceed if a minor commits an act of willful misconduct

The first and most important step is to accept that the child has done something wrong and to put measures in place to prevent the situation from recurring. Second, it is highly recommended that parents or guardians seek the advice of an attorney who is experienced in all aspects of family law in Albuquerque (https://kufferlaw.com/).

A family law attorney will be able to provide the family with guidance and advice that is specific to their circumstances and offer strategies to help them prepare for the legal proceedings that are to come, along with the potential implications if their minor child is found guilty of intentionally harming another person or their property. 

It is essential that parents or guardians do not attempt to minimize the impact of their child’s actions as teaching them to accept responsibility for their actions is a vital part of parenting that will stand them in good stead for the future. By owning the consequences of their actions, they are less likely to reoffend. 

A family law attorney may recommend that the family voluntarily enroll in a suitable counseling or educational program to improve parenting, behavior or unit cohesiveness [2]. Evidence of proactive actions such as this may be viewed favorably in court.

A family law attorney will also be well placed to help a family determine whether the type and extent of their child’s willful misconduct is covered by an insurance policy. This could help to mitigate the costs they incur if the child is found guilty of the offense.

In conclusion, the bounds of parental responsibility go beyond the role of caregiver. Parents or guardians whose children knowingly and intentionally cause harm or damage to other people or their property may legally be held accountable for their actions. At the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer, we are well versed in all aspects of family law and can help you negotiate the uncertainties associated with minor misconduct and emerge as a stronger family unit.


[1] https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2021/chapter-32a/article-2/section-32a-2-27/#:~:text=Any%20person%20may%20recover%20damages,or%20deprived%20use%20of%20property%2C
[2] https://seconddistrictcourt.nmcourts.gov/home/courts/childrens-court/youth-and-family-counseling/