Nearly all of us can recall a moment from childhood when we were at odds with a parent on a matter of discipline, and “because I said so” was the resolute justification for exercising parental authority. At the time, it probably felt definitive, dictatorial or maybe even Draconian to the child, as challenging the parent was likely out of the question. While an adult’s ability to parent as he or she sees fit may feel absolute to a child, it does not go unchecked in the eyes of the law. The laws governing family court actions can endorse or discourage a specific parenting style, which can be a factor in how parents are legally permitted to raise their children. The legislative preference for one parenting style over another may be most sharply evident in the neglect laws, but implicit endorsement of a given parenting style may spill over into other areas of family law, such as custody determinations incident to divorce.

Search any parenting magazine or blog and you will find an abundance of resources and debates on various parenting styles. The term “helicopter parent” characterizes one who hovers over the child’s every move, using overprotection and supervision to thwart the independence of a child. Conversely, “free-range parenting” characterizes the laissez-faire parent who promotes the independence and self-sufficiency of the child by affording greater liberty and freedom of choice. See generally David Manno, “How Dramatic Shifts in Perceptions of Parenting Have Exposed Families, Free Range or Otherwise, to State Intervention,” 65 Am. U. L. Rev. 675, 677 (2016).

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