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    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.


    Are you thinking about running away from home?

    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 and are thinking about running away, you can contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929).

    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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    18 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).

    • John
      Mon, 12 May 2014 at 03:26

      Hello, my name is John
      My son is 16 and he has a runaway charge and incorrigible charge. My son is beyond out of control. He has threatened me and been totally disrespectful to me by not following rules. We’ve went to court 1 time and they ordered a child study on him. He’s putting on an act so the court will think he’s a model kid. I know if the judge just gives him community service which is what she said she was going to do and slaps him on the wrist after all is said and done he’ll go right back to his old self because when it’s just me and him he’s more disrespectful than ever to me. What do you think the judge will do in the end of all this?
      Dear John: The judge is limited in what can be done with an “incorrigible” teenager. State laws apply and are followed by the courts. You can Google the name of your state and “incorrigible child” for information or, better yet, contact a local juvenile probation officer and ask. Some courts have specific programs to deal with these kids. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Cortnee
      Sat, 07 Jun 2014 at 08:22

      Recently I was charged with incorrigibility. From what I have read, you need to be disruptive and dangerous in order to get theses charges. I am not either and I am never disruptive or disobedient in school. My aunt has legal guardianship of me and we disagree on a few of her rules. I was never dangerous or threatening her though. She said we were going to meet with a woman at the probate court and she would sign off her guardianship. Turns out, the woman was out to get me from the beginning. She interrupted me, twisted my words, and was on my aunts side from the beginning. My aunt said I needed to spend the night at a friends house of go to the youth home and I said quote-“no, I just want to go home.” And the woman said no you need to listen to your guardian, & I said “I just want to go home.” & she picked up the phone and called someone and said I was spending the night in the youth home and I would have a court hearing the next day. The next day she brought me to her office and told me that I had a choice of choosing a consent calendar for 90 days or going to court, getting it on my permanent record, staying in the youth home for some time, so I obviously chose the consent calendar. It says I must obey my guardian, do my chords, attend counseling, do community service, & things like that. No where did it say she was going to give me random drug tests, in which I am getting. No where did it say she can decide where I can and cannot go. No where did it say she can choose what I do and do not do. So now I’m stuck in a situation where I don’t know what to do. I feel as though I did not deserve the charges. I was not incorrigible. I would like to know what my possible options are. I signed that paper without fully understanding what I was getting into.Dear Cortnee: You didn’t mention your age but we assume you’re under 18 since you have a guardian and have been charged with incorrigibility. You have little choice in these matters due to your age. Disobedience may be considered an incorrigible act – it’s not limited to “being danderous or disruptive” as you mentioned. You’re required, as a minor, to listen to your parents or guardian. Once you turn 18 or are emancipated under the law, then you make your own decisions. Make the best of it. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Steve Gordon
      Fri, 20 Jun 2014 at 08:21

      I have a 17 year old daughter, that has decided that listening to our rules is out of the question. She gets up in the morning and tells her mom she is going for a walk, and doesn’t come home until lunch time, or later. She is diagnosed with RAD, as well as other mental health issues. We call the police if she leaves without permission, or doesn’t come home within a couple hours, but she knows there is nothing else we can really do to punish her. We recently found out she walks to the local park and hangs out until her boyfriend gets off of work, which could be as long as 3-4 hours. We are trying to help prepare her for the real world, and life after high school. I don’t want to cause issues with her record after she is 18, but she is putting herself at risk, and she is stressing her brother and sister every time she blatantly leaves against our wishes. This may not sound extreme, but it started with her, at 16, telling us she was going to run away, and hook up with her boyfriend, and there was nothing we could do to stop her.
      Dear Steve: We understand your concern. You could contact your local juvenile probation department and see if a probation officer could have a stern talk with her to wake her up to reality a little. Sometimes when teens realize the actual consequences they could face for their behavior, like you and her mother filing an incorrigibility charge against her, they may reconsider ignoring the parents’ rules. You could also consider addressing the behavior with a licensed counselor or therapist as there may be underlying issues causing your daughter’s defiance. Good luck.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Kevin
      Sun, 13 Jul 2014 at 05:12

      If I am being disrespectful to my parents, do they have the right to hit me (punch in jaw, slap face, shove)? For example, if they get mad at me for not waking up on time every single day of the summer, and I decide to talk back with an attitude, can they legally hit me?
      Dear Kevin: Every state has laws regarding parental discipline and the consequences when it crosses the line into abuse. Generally, parents are allowed to physically discipline their children but when the punishment meets the state’s definition of physical or sexual abuse, then charges can be filed. You can google the name of your state and “child abuse” for information on this. If you are in fact being abused, we recommend you talk with an adult you trust or contact the local Child Protective Services office or the police. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Ronald
      Sat, 23 Aug 2014 at 06:41

      My 8 year old son tried to have sex with another 8 year old girl at the beginning of the year and this week told a boy at latchkey he wanted to kill him with a knife for liking the same girl as him on top of many more normal behavioral issues all mostly linked to impulse/self control. I have tried everything to reign him in but at best it only helps for a while. The worst part is when he is with his mother he has very little limitations which pretty well undermines all that I do try to do. Incorrigible charges seem to be my only option both for dealing with him and his mom (other than custody issues which are also being pursued) I don’t want something to follow him around forever but I also want him to grow up to be a good person. Do I have any other options? Will this haunt him in the future?
      Dear Ronald: We’re not sure if you’ve tried some extensive counseling for your son, but it may help tremendously. First, you could try talking with his school’s counselor for suggestions and further information. You’ll have to check with your local court about the process to file incorrigible charges on him and the requirements based on the laws in your state. Considering he is only 8-years-old, there may be other help available for him like counseling and even asking the juvenile probation department to speak with him about the possible consequences he faces if he continues to get into trouble. An incorrigibility charge stays on his juvenile record which may be sealed once he’s 18, so it shouldn’t affect his future. However, you would want to check your state’s laws first about juvenile records. Good luck to you and your son.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • alize
      Wed, 10 Sep 2014 at 10:00

      I need help I live in Az. My 14 year old son don’t want to listen breaks crew not doing so good in school.and runs away.the courts here don’t help. I need to do something.o he dose weed to
      Dear Alize: You could try contacting your local juvenile probation department and ask if a probation officer could speak to your son. Sometimes, a very serious conversation coming from an authority figure like a P.O. can help get through to a kid the possible consequences he’s facing if he doesn’t start obeying the rules. Otherwise, you could look into the process for filing an incorrigibility claim against your son in court. Then a judge would have to decide what penalties to impose, if any. Good luck.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Aunt Caroline
      Sun, 14 Dec 2014 at 06:58

      My niece is 17 and needs help my sister seems unable / unwilling to give her. This girl has always been a handful, and my sister gave up trying to parent her a long time ago. For example, my niece wanted to eat junk food which my sister didn’t want to buy for her. Sister solved the problem by giving my niece $300 per month, starting at age 14, so she could manage her own diet, clothing, etc. When niece runs out of money, sister just gives her more. When my niece got a boyfriend last year my sister let him sleep over and eventually move in, under the theory that “they’ll just do it in the car anyway.” The boyfriend, while out on bail for a purse-snatching, died in a car accident on the way, apparently, to another crime. My sister went into my niece’s room and found thousands of dollars of stolen money, other people’s credit cards (including my sister’s), stolen checks, and extra keys to my sister’s car. My niece admits to at least knowing about all of this, if not participating herself, but my sister keeps making excuses, blaming the dead boy, and failing to punish my niece in any way. When pressed, my sister says she’s afraid of my niece (who is loud, abusive, outweighs my sister by 50 lbs and has chased her down the street twice now). My niece stole my sister’s car several times, despite not having a license, and has bragged about it to me in front of my sister. The family thinks my sister should press charges against my niece and let the justice system teach her a lesson. But I am very afraid that putting my (African American) niece into the justice system will end in disaster, and we don’t have the money for other treatment. She’s seeing a short-term therapist until insurance runs out, but he says “she won’t change until she wants to,” and there’s no sign whatsoever of that happening. Are there ANY alternatives or programs you can suggest, please? And what, if anything, can be done to get my sister to start parenting this child before its too late? I have no children myself and no experience. Thank you for any thoughts. (We live in California.)
      Dear Aunt Caroline: What others have told you is correct. Until your niece decides to change her ways, there’s little anyone can do. That may take a harsh wake-up call such as being charged with a crime. Once she’s in the criminal justice system (juvenile or adult), she’ll be required to follow probation terms that can lead to jail time if the terms are violated. Since she already sees a counselor, hopefully her issues are being addressed. Your concern for her is admirable but until she decides to straighten up, your presence in her life and prayer might be the best thing at this point. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Tyshawn
      Mon, 15 Dec 2014 at 02:16

      For the whole weekend I went with my 21 years old guy friend an im 17 and asked permission from my mom. She said yeah but now she said she is going to file for incorrigible. Can she do that?
      Dear Tyshawn: Yes, she can try to file charges against you for incorrigibility, but it’s up to law enforcement to accept and formally charge you with an offense. The police and local prosecutor decide, based on the facts, whether you violated the law or not. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Kista Dawn
      Thu, 09 Apr 2015 at 01:53

      My parents filed a incorrigibility paper on me because I ran away because I was being abused! I went with my 19 year old boyfriend. I an 16 right now and I was wondering if I could get in the process of being Emancipation. I do everything around my house I care for 3 younger children!my adopted parents will not let me get a ID, learners nor a Job. I am having a hard time at home with them. They put my in a mental hospital after I opened up about being rapped. They don’t help me. The cancel all my therapy appointmento. They , are do be a parent to their other adoptive children. They are 9, 8, and 4. I don’t know what to do. Can you please tell me what would be best for me to do they even put me on probation for running away because they were abusing me. So I don’t know what to dom
      Dear Kista: Becoming emancipated is a difficult status to obtain through the courts as you have to show that you are financially independent and able to support yourself and make mature decisions about all aspects of your life. If you believe you (and your siblings) are being abused, then you need to talk to an adult you trust about your circumstances. Whether it’s a teacher, school counselor, relative or friend’s parent, an adult can help you. You can also contact the police or Child Protective Services – the number for the national hotline is 1-800-422-4453. Good luck and please take care of yourself.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

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