• Am I in trouble with the law if I disobey my parents?

    Date: 09.07.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Behavior that at one time was considered fun and mischievous— or just part of growing up— may now be reason for you and your parents to appear in court.  If you turn an overnight with a friend into several days away from home without permission, you could be charged as a runaway.  A night out on the town may land you a curfew violation, and senior “ditch day” may be considered truancy. These are examples of status offenses; an offense that can only be committed by someone under eighteen.

    Your parents are required by law to provide for your care and upbringing. You, in turn, are required to obey them and follow their rules. The law gives parents a lot of freedom in raising children. However, it is not without limits. If the rules of the house are reasonable under the law—even if they don′t seem reasonable to you—they must be followed. If the rules place you in danger of being neglected or abused, you need to report what′s going on and get help for yourself and your brothers and sisters.

    Photo by Valentin Ottone

    Parents who have tried discipline (such as grounding or loss of privileges) and have failed to improve their child′s behavior can file an incorrigibility charge against their child. A judge will then decide what to do, from putting the child on probation to ordering counseling or locking the child up for a period of time.

    Disorderly conduct is another act that′s against the law. It′s sometimes called disturbing the peace, and it happens when you act in a way that upsets someone else. Examples include fighting, making loud noise, cursing, disruptive behavior in public, or refusing to obey an order from a police officer, firefighter, or school official. It′s also possible to disturb the peace at home. If you′re disruptive and your parents′ peace is upset, you may end up in court.


    Approximately one million children run away from home each year. Another 300,000 children are homeless, living on the streets with no supervision, nurturance, or regular assistance from a parent or responsible adult. Many more youth are homeless along with their families. If you or a friend needs help or someone to talk to in a difficult situation, call the operator or 911 for immediate assistance, or call a hotline for counseling or referrals in your community.

    An interesting decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals was issued in September, 2011. In the case of State v. Boehler, the court reversed the conviction of Timothy Boehler who was charged with panhandling (begging in public). He asked an undercover police officer if he could spare some change since he was homeless. The court ruled that the city ordinance prohibiting panhandling violated free speech. “The First Amendment protects begging or panhandling when it is conducted peacefully.”*

    *The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Kokinda, 110 S.Ct. 3115 (1990) was referred to by the Arizona court.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    9 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • tiffany
      Sat, 01 Jan 2011 at 05:43

      hi my name is tiffany. i was caught shoplifting for the second time…but my first time was deffered and i dont have it in my record anymore…does that still count this time??do i get in trouble for both times?? i regret it…it was something i did with out thinking and i dont know wut to do this time…i have court this up coming tuesday and was wondering wut i can do to get out on getting a fine because my family doesnt have any money but i wouldnt mine haveing a different punishment wut can i do??
      Dear Tiffany: Your first offense will not be counted, but since you already completed a diversion program, it most likely will not be offered to you again. Therefore, you are likely facing community service hours, a fine and possibly a class. You could tell the court about your family’s financial difficulties and it may be willing to work with you by imposing more community service hours rather than a high fine. Remember that the penalties will continue to increase for additional offenses, so we hope you learned from these two mistakes. Good luck.
      [This is information only - not legal advice.]

    • Mandi
      Wed, 26 Sep 2012 at 11:10

      hi i’m mandi and I have a job background check coming up.

      When i was about 16-17 i pleaded guilty to incouragable and disturbing the peace charges. I just had a job interview and they are running a background check. I turned 18 recently, and I don’t know if that will show up on my background check.

      I got these charges bc my parents called the cops on me bc i left the house in the middle of the night to see friends bc they wouldn’t let me out of the house at all.Also i got disturbing the peace for hitting my dad, which they was lessened from domestic violence.

      What will my future job see on my background check?
      Dear Mandi: It is possible that nothing will appear on a background check. If you didn’t go to court for this or get a ticket, there’s no official record of the incident. If you had to go to court and you completed a diversion program, there shouldn’t be a record either. If an official record does exist, contact the court and ask about having it destroyed or expunged. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Chloe
      Sun, 30 Dec 2012 at 11:18

      Hi I’m 17 years old and I have been with someone who is three years older than me for 2 years. I had parental consent until my mom found out he is a drug addict along with the rest of his family. She forbid me to see him however I continued to sneak out behind her back. Now she kicked me out of the house but told me that if she found out I went to his house after kicking me out she’d call the cops. If she did this what would the cops do? Do I have any right to be where I want if she kicks me out? I do not want to be emancipated because I feel that she will come around and I financially cannot do that. But for now I can’t be at the house especially if she won’t let me. Please help:(
      Dear Chloe: Legally, you are required to obey your parents until you are an adult which means that if they forbid you to date someone, then you need to either discuss the situation and come to a compromise or stay away from that person. At the same time, your Mom is legally required to provide for you until you are an adult, so if she calls the police, they may tell her that she can’t exactly kick you out of the house. Perhaps you could try sitting down with your Mom and having a heart to heart so it doesn’t get to the point of her calling the police. Tell her how you feel and if your boyfriend is a recovering addict, point out the good qualities and the fact that he’s been sober for however long. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Samantha
      Mon, 14 Jan 2013 at 01:29

      Hi my name is Samantha, my mom filled a incorrigible charge on me a few moths ago, in just 19 days I will turn 18 years old & they have put me in foster care. Today was my last court date & the judge wants a report on me every 90 days till I graduate which is in May. I want to know if the night I turn 18 if I am a loud to leave & go where I want. No one can seem to give me a straight answer but I would really like to know. After the age of 18 can anyone have a say so where I go? Can I just leave at 12:00 that night & not have to worry about anything? I want to know that if I do leave then that they can’t do anything to me for doing it. Please help me. Thank you.
      Dear Samantha: Every state has laws about incorrigibility and the penalties for being found by a court to be an incorrigible youth. You may become independent at age 18 but if you’re under the jurisdiction of the court after you turn 18, you need to follow the judge’s orders. Otherwise you could be facing contempt charges that carry harsher penalties. We suggest you talk with someone at court about this (probation officer or supervisor), a lawyer or guardian who works with juveniles. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Kristy
      Sat, 23 Nov 2013 at 12:31

      In Pennsylvania, If i refuse to go to my father’s home and visit the police department myself to file a report, can my dad put my mom in jail for contempt?
      Dear Kristy: It would depend on whether a court order exists regarding custody and visitation, what the circumstances are surrounding your objection to seeing your dad, the policies of the court and the laws in Pennsylvania that apply to your case. The basis of a contempt finding by a court is the deliberate violation of a court order without cause. Your mother would have a chance to explain the circumstances if brought before the court on this. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • David
      Fri, 24 Jan 2014 at 10:16

      We have a 15 yr old son that’s not obeying the fair rules of the house, is very disruptive in his high school classes and is using illegal substances. If we file incorrigibilty charges against him in Florida can we lose our parental rights unexpectedly?
      Dear David: It’s unlikely you would lose your parental rights by seeking help for your son through the juvenile court. If formal charges are filed against him in court and the judge declares him to be a ward of the court, you may lose some rights on a temporary basis while he’s within the court’s jurisdiction. For example, depending on the facts of the case, he could be detained for a period of time or sent to a treatment facility under court order. In that respect your rights are suspended while he’s under court ordered placement. We suggest you talk with a local juvenile law attorney for advice. Many offer free consultations and that may be all you need to answer your questions under the laws in your state that apply to this situation. Ask about a consult if you contact a lawyer. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Melissa
      Sun, 26 Jan 2014 at 03:01

      I recently went to the police station to file a runaway report on my daughter because I didn’t know where she was at and I was afraid she had run away, she called me while I was at the police station and cam home a few hours later. I just got a letter in the mail saying we had to show up for and interview so she could either admit or deney charges of INC.disobey. I never asked to file charges on my daughter and I do not want her in trouble with the courts. Can you tell me what rights we have?

      you tell me what rights we have?
      Dear Melissa: Be sure to show up with your daughter on her court date. You can ask to make a statement and explain the circumstances. Ultimately, it’s up to the judge and/or prosecutor how to proceed with the case and whether or not charges should be dropped. You can also look into speaking with a local criminal defense attorney. Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation. Good luck to you and your daughter.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Chanae
      Mon, 27 Jan 2014 at 11:43

      I am a parent that has been dealing with my daughters behavior issues since the age of 9 she has been diagnosed with ADHD an depression. She has been through years of therapy, medications, mentors ect. She is now 16 I have spent the last few years at her school where she refuses to work an is constantly in drama an frequent suspensions. I have loss two jobs an had been hospitalized for anxiety due to her behavior! I am at the end of my rope! Currently she has been put on home an hospital services where she goes for tutoring at the library for her school work which she is refusing to do an terrorizes my household by doing everything but what she is told. I have asked the school for help but they say their hands are tied because in the state of Maryland she has to commit a serious offence. I’ve tried everything to prevent that but I am lost an cannot live like this anymore! Please help with some suggestions.
      Dear Chanae: We suggest you contact your local juvenile court and ask for information about dealing with your daughter. Some courts assign probation officers to work with incorrigible kids. They explain the consequences of not following the rules at home and skipping school. Hopefully this will get your daughter’s attention. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice)

    • Carmen
      Thu, 27 Feb 2014 at 01:57

      Hi, My name is Carmenand Im 16 years old and have been under the courts since i was 12 but from me and my mother having a physical altercation. 2 years prior I was assulted and was in and out of mentle hospitals and was diagnosed with ptsd, depression, and bi polar disorder. The only reason Im still on probation is the fact that I talk back and sometimes refuse to do chores. I know I should listen but sometimes it just comes out. do you have an idea why they would hold me for something so petty I mean no one’s perfect.
      Dear Carmen: We don’t know everything about you or your history with the court. Since you have a probation officer and probably a caseworker from the child welfare agency, talk with those people about your situation. They should be able to tell you what you can do to end your stay with the court and probation department. Be patient and try to keep your disruptions in placement to a minimum. Good luck, Carmen.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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