Teenage boy behind metal fence at juvenile detention center

Are Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Crimes?

Law Offices of Fisher Wise Feb. 21, 2023

Being charged with a crime is a serious matter. When a minor is charged with a crime, parental liability can further complicate matters. That is why understanding parental responsibility in Tennessee is a crucial part of protecting a minor’s right to a fair defense. 

At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, we are committed to protecting the rights of Chattanooga, Tennessee residents. We also proudly serve the communities of Red Bank, East Ridge, and Soddy-Daisy, including neighboring counties such as Marion County, Rhea County, and Sequatchie County. 

Parental Responsibility

If your child has been criminally charged, you may wonder if you’re responsible for your child’s crimes. Simply put, your liability as a parent depends on the situation. In general terms, parental responsibility refers to the liability parents retain when a minor child under their care commits a willful or negligent act. Liability refers to financial responsibility for damages caused. 

Please note the key term is “willful.” A willful act involves an intentional action with a specific outcome in mind. Willful actions differ from negligent ones since negligence refers to carelessness or omission. 

Consider this situation: 

A teenager sneaks out in their parent’s car. The minor is involved in a car accident, causing material damages or personal injuries. In this situation, liability for the child’s actions may not be imposed on the parents since it was an accident. The child did not intentionally take the car to cause damage or injure someone. 

In contrast, a minor charged with robbery would trigger parental responsibility laws since the minor willfully engaged in criminal activity. As a result, the parents are liable for the damages and potential legal consequences of the child’s actions. 

Remember that parental responsibility laws are serious business. In 2021, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that minors committed 10% of violent crimes. As a result, parental liability must not be taken lightly. 

Parental Responsibility Laws in Tennessee 

Here are some general parental responsibility laws in the state of Tennessee: 

  1. In Tennessee, the law establishes minors as individuals under 18. Thus, parental liability applies if the minor is under 18 or was under 18 when the act was committed.  

  1. Additionally, parental responsibility applies to custodial parents. In other words, non-custodial parents may be exempt from parental responsibility. 

  1. Tennessee law also recognizes the rights of counties, towns, corporations, villages, schools, or any other public institution to collect damages resulting from willful or malicious actions. 

  1. Please bear in mind that parental responsibility centers on willful or malicious intent. In essence, the child must knowingly commit a harmful action. Damages resulting from carelessness of genuine accidents do not fall under parental responsibility laws. For instance, a minor assaults a fellow student at school, causing serious personal injuries. Given the malice involved, parental liability requires the minor’s parents to pay financial compensation for the victim’s injuries in addition to a possible jail term. In contrast, personal injuries resulting from an accident, such as an elbow to the face during a sporting event, would not constitute parental liability. 

Possible Parental Consequences in Tennessee

Parental liability may result in the following consequences: 


Parents may be sentenced to prison for crimes classified as felonies. The court must determine if the parent’s negligence facilitated the incident. For instance, a parent carelessly stored a handgun that the minor used to commit a robbery. 


Similarly, parental responsibility can lead to fines. Fines generally apply to crimes classified as misdemeanors. For example, a minor charged with shoplifting could trigger fines in addition to compensation to the affected parties. 

Parenting Classes 

Parents may be sentenced to attend parenting classes instead of paying a fine or serving jail time. Parents must comply with the classes until their court-appointed counselor approves their release from the classes. 

Skilled and Compassionate Legal Counsel 

At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes. We know what it’s like to go through difficult times, so don’t face the law alone. From our office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we strive to give you tough criminal defense advocacy with a human touch. Reach out today for guidance.