What are parents' obligations to their children?
Every parent has the duty to provide his or her children with the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and shelter. This duty usually terminates when the child is emancipated, which generally occurs at the age of eighteen, when the child graduates from high school, when the child enters the military, or when the child marries, but the support obligation can extend beyond that point if the child is unable to support himself or herself and would become a public obligation without familial support. The law generally does not dictate the level of support that is provided when the children live with both parents, but when, through divorce or other circumstances, the child is living with one parent, there are strict rules about the amount of financial support provided by the non-custodial parent.
In most instances, parents also have the responsibility to provide necessary medical care for their children. If parents refuse life-saving medical treatment for their children, the state may intervene against the parents' wishes, even if they made their decision on religious grounds.
Parents must also make sure that their children meet school attendance requirements. They do, however, have the right to decide whether the child's education will be in a public school, a private school, or through home schooling.
Stepparents have no legal obligation toward their stepchildren. When they assume the role of the sole provider of the child's support, however, they may be held accountable for providing that support even if the marriage to the child's biological parent ends. Of course, if a stepparent adopts a stepchild, the obligations are the same as they are in any other parent-child relationship.
This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.
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