Let's say a minor (17 or younger) living with his parents gets a job or does chores, and with the money thereby earned, buys a video game console.

The parents decide that the console is not appropriate for the child and take it away. In fact, they sell it and put the money into their own bank account, with no plans to ever give it back to the child.

Setting aside any question of ethics or morality, is this legal on the part of the parents? If the police are called in, will they seek to charge the parents with a crime (such as theft)?

I am under the impression that there is no legal case here, as the parents are the custodians/guardians of everything for the child. Imagine a situation where the parents are very poor, and ongoingly need the fruits of their child's labor to simply put food on the table and pay for the electricity. In my mind, while parents should generally allow their children to own possessions and enjoy the fruits of their labor, they also have every right to take every last penny from their child if it is urgently needed for the basic good of the whole family.

When considering this situation, perhaps it would be easier for you to think of the purchased item as something most would agree is unhealthful for the child, though not necessarily illegal for him to possess—say, a book on how to construct a bomb or on how to commit suicide. Perhaps it is a chain saw, or a gun, or a set of lawn darts, or pornography, or anything else that most/many people would recognize is good for parents to take away from their minor children, no matter where the money came from or what previous recognition there was in the family of the item's belonging to the child. In this way, please try to avoid responding from any distaste about the parents violating your personal feelings about a child's rights, as this question is specifically about the law only.

I'd like to know if my impression here stands at odds with any laws or precedents that could inform me better.

If a more specific jurisdiction is needed, let's hear answers from Washington state, California, Florida, and Maine. Or chime in with a few other states, so we can get an idea of what the laws are throughout the nation. Feel free to add information on laws in other countries, as well, but please try to answer the USA question first.

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    This is a fairly broad-ranging question; a much narrower question would be, can a parent confiscate and sell their minor child's computer. In Washington, you can't own a car until you're 18 except for rare circumstances; that kind of stuff complicates the question. There's no law prohibiting minors from owning computers.
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:30
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    I will remove the part about a car to make the question clearer.
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 0:15
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    I mean it may not be illegal to take your kids stuff but you'll end up pissing off your kid and maybe even ruining part of their personality development. Say your kid has been saving up money for years to buy something expensive and right when they do you as the parent sell it and take the money for it. Number one your kid isn't going to be very happy with you in the slightest and may grow up to resent you. Or number two your kid grows up with the impression that they don't matter and no matter how hard they work for something someone else deserves it and they hand away their happiness for som Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 0:42
  • Thank you for your contribution PenelopeGrave. I see someone else (not I) downvoted your answer. I think this might be because this site looks for answers to reference the law and contain content that involves some form of legal analysis of the question. Although your answer makes a lot of good points, you could improve your answer by making some reference to the law or its application to the situation described by the OP's question. Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 10:15
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    @PenelopeGrave no one has suggested to randomly take children’s things. However, if I as a parent believe doing so is in the best interests of my child, I will do so. The belief in a child that he has Final, supreme authority over his possessions may be harmful in itself. It is not my job to make my children like me but to produce healthy, well-adjusted adults. I assure you my child will later thank me if I had to take something of his, and will be a better human for it, because I would only do so for his benefit.
    – ErikE
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


The fundamental question is whether children can own property: they clearly can. See Cyclopedia of Law and Procedure (I improved the link so it can be more easily read).

As a general rule any property acquired by the child in any way except by its own labor or services belongs to the child, and not to the parent

McClosky v. Cyphert, 3 Casey (27 Pa.) 220

The right of an infant to be the owner of property is as clear and as well protected as that of a person who has arrived at full age. When anything is given to an infant to be held by him in his own right, he has the title to it, and the parent, guardian or master has in law no more right to take it (for any purpose beyond safekeeping) than a stranger.

Wheeler v. R. Co., 31 Kan. 640, 3 P. 297, 300:

As a matter of law a minor may own property the same as any other person. He may obtain it by inheritance, by gift, or by purchase; and there is nothing in the law that would prevent even a father from giving property to his minor child. A father may also so emancipate his minor child as to entitle him to receive his own wages. It is probably true that where a minor child lives with his father, and is supported by him, all things given to the child in the way of support, such as clothing, for instance, would still belong to the father and not to the child. But things given by the father to the child, not in the way of support, but with the understanding that they should become the property of the child, would, undoubtedly, become the property of the child.

Banks v. Conant, 14 Allen 497, the father

has no title to the property of the child, nor is the capacity or right of the latter to take property or receive money by grant, gift or otherwise, except as a compensation for services, in any degree qualified or limited during minority. Whatever therefore an infant acquires which does not come to him as a compensation for services rendered, belongs absolutely to him, and his father cannot interpose any claim to it, either as against the child, or as against third persons who claim title or possession from or under the infant.

However, a parent does have the right to prevent their child from using or acquiring a computer, car (also prohibited statutorily in Washington), television, cell phone; they can also prevent a child from spending their savings. Parents do retain their property right in things that they give to their children for general support and maintenance, such as a pair of shoes, or books.

There can also be specific statutes such as the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (Washington version) which partially recognize this right, making it easy for a person to transfer property to a minor, where the property is in the care of a custodian, but not owned by the custodian.

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    Objection to the label you gave it: merely whether a child can own property isn’t sufficient—that’s just a necessary condition. Your quoted case precedents go beyond ownership to parental rights as is necessary. Now it seems important to understand the scope and jurisdiction of these cases. Where were they heard? Are they of general applicability? Are they likely to be consulted or be binding in Washington state or California, etc.?
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:52
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    These are general common law cases from all over the common law realm. As such, they will be binding in Washington etc. unless there is specific statutory override which negates the property rights of a minor. There is no such override in Washington. Cyclopedia is old enough that it is out of copyright and you can download it for details.
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:59
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    Hmmm I just noticed that in my question I specifically spoke about the child earning the money, not being given money or the item. This makes me wonder about the phrase "except by its own labor or services". Also, in Banks v. Conant, it says "except as a compensation for services". Is this referring to the parent charging for services, or is it the same as the former where a child's earnings can be taken by the parent, but not gifts to the child?
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 20:17
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    Nice analysis of a very tricky question despite the fact that it is ubiquitous.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 20:34
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    Of course, even if you can’t take their PlayStation, you can deny them the right to use your electricity to power it
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 21:03

A very specific case in CA is child actors. They are protected by California Code, Labor Code - LAB § 1308.9 and others. This involves setting up trusts for the child actor's wages to go into.


Moderation note: this answer was merged from a duplicate question that focused on


Minors in most US states can and do own property, and their parents have no automatic right to take that property.

In some states there is a rule, dating to 18th- and 19th-centuary law, that a child owes labor to his or her father (or more recently parents) and that if the child works for wages the father may claim those wages. I do not find any indication that Iowa has such a rule. Even in states with such a rule, property, including money, received by a child as a gift or inheritance is the child's property, and may not be permanently taken by the child's parents, or either of them.

A parent may in some cases be allowed to take possession and control of child's property, provided that the action is for the benefit of the child. But the child retains ownership, and the property must be restored to the child after a predetermined time.


Iowa laws chapter 599 (minors) says in section 599.2:

A minor is bound not only by contracts for necessaries, but also by the minor’s other contracts, unless the minor disaffirms them within a reasonable time after attaining majority, and restores to the other party all money or property received by the minor by virtue of the contract, and remaining within the minor’s control at any time after attaining majority except as otherwise provided.

Section 599.4 provides that:

Where a contract for the personal services of a minor has been made with the minor alone, and the services are afterwards performed, payment therefor made to the minor, in accordance with the terms of the contract, is a full satisfaction therefor, and the parent or guardian cannot recover a second time.

Findlaw's page "Do Parents Own Their Children's Property?" says:

All children under the age of 18 have the same rights with respect to owning property. They cannot enter into a contract without a parent co-signing, unless they are emancipated minors. But assuming that a minor came into the possession of the item without having entered into a contract, as is the case with most purchases and gifts, parents have no ownership rights over the property of children. Parents do, however, have legal responsibility for their children's actions, both criminally and civilly, under the doctrine of parental liability.

Merging these two concepts of minor ownership and parental liability can be a real problem, in an age when parents are feeling like they have run out of disciplinary resources. For instance, if you don't like the way your child is behaving at home, can you legally take away their toy? Or their X-Box? Or their iPhone? The answer is, it depends, but it is never under a concept of ownership, but rather, custodial rights. But more often the real question is, are you seeing the bigger picture?

Custodial Control of Property

Parents, as legal guardians, may be allowed to take temporary custodial control of their children's property, and hold it in good care for them until a set time, and then return it. The child still owns the property, though they may not be constantly in possession.

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    Does the fact that OP's father presumably kicked OP out to live with their grandparents affect custodial rights? In some jurisdictions (IIRC) that constitutes waiving guardianship responsibilities and all rights associated therein if OP is over a particular age. Commented May 17, 2021 at 19:26

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