Understanding Child Supervision: What the Law Says and Parental Responsibility

2023-10-02 10:37:00

Does the law provide for an age for leaving children unsupervised?

What the law says ?

There is no precise age specified in the law for leaving a child alone but several national and international texts recall that a child, due to his lack of physical and intellectual maturity, needs special protection and special care, including appropriate legal protection.

Generally speaking, it is believed that the child must have reached the age of discernment, that is to say that the child must have understanding and awareness of what he is doing, that he can distinguish good from evil. It is estimated that a child around the age of 12 has this ability.

As a corollary of this special protection granted to minor children, parents have a duty of supervision and education towards them.

The younger a child is, the more security he or she needs.

The duty of supervision in particular will therefore be assessed more severely if the child is young and if he is not sufficiently independent.

And if I think that my child is capable of remaining alone, am I still responsible if he does something stupid?

The law provides that the responsibility of parents in relation to their minor child is presumed.

To exempt themselves, parents can demonstrate that they have not committed any fault in the supervision and education of their child or that there is no causal link between their fault and the damage.

In the event of a dispute, the courts and tribunals will carry out a careful analysis of the parents’ behavior with regard to the education given and the supervision provided to their child. The assessment of these criteria will be made on a case-by-case basis.

The younger the child left alone, the more difficult it will be to overturn the presumption of responsibility that weighs on your shoulders.

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It will not be enough for you to invoke your absence at the time of the alleged acts to assert that you are not at fault.

In the event of a problem, the judge will also check whether you have provided a good education for your child, which will be assessed not at the time when the act is committed, but in relation to how he behaved during his period of life. .

Finally, even if your fault is found, you can try to exonerate yourself from your liability if you manage to demonstrate that there is no link between your possible fault and the damage as it occurred.

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In the latter case, you will have to prove that you might not prevent the event which gave rise to it and that this damage would have occurred in the same way, even in the absence of any fault on your part.

It is clear that there is great legal uncertainty regarding the interpretation of these criteria. It will therefore not be easy to reverse this presumption of responsibility in reality.

Concerning the risk of being singled out as a bad parent, it is once more a question of analyzing the circumstances of the cause: was your child not too young to be left alone? Have you put everything in place to avoid an accident?

If it turns out that your parental attitude amounts to negligence, the authorities may withdraw custody of your child if his or her health or safety is seriously compromised, either due to the fact that your child adopts habitually or repeated behaviors that compromise their emotional, social or intellectual development, either due, in particular, to serious neglect that threatens your child directly and truly.

All of these elements will allow the judge to examine whether you acted adequately as a parent or not.

Who is Pascale Poncin, the author of this text?

Pascale Poncin is a lawyer at the Brussels bar and practices family law and youth law. She is also a family mediator.

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This series is a partnership between La Libre and the French Order of the Brussels Bar.

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