Parent and Child, branch of the law of domestic relations that determines the legal rights and obligations of fathers or mothers to their children and of children to their parents. The legal relationship is distinguished from the natural relationship; for example, two persons may have a legal relationship of parent and child although there is no natural relationship, as in the case of an adopted child.
In common law in the United Kingdom and the United States, parents were the legal as well as natural guardians of their child. They had the right to name the child and were entitled to custody. As custodians, they could reasonably chastise the child, but for excessive punishment the parents were criminally liable for assault, or for homicide in case of death.
The father was deemed entitled to custody of the child in preference to the mother. A parent was not liable for a tort (wrongful act) of the child unless its commission was incited or authorized by the parent.
A parent could recover damages for torts committed against the child. In common law, the parent was not civilly liable to maintain the child, but was criminally responsible in cases of neglect, as when failure to provide food or clothing caused injury or death.