Do you know of any cases where a minor child went to court to challenge a matter of their parents’ authority? I.E. of a child asking a court to stop their parents from enforcing a decision, rule or punishment concerning the child?
What I’m talking about is not as far-fetched as one might imagine. It evidently doesn’t happen day-to-day, and parents routinely get away with all manner of authoritarianism and enforcing very strict rules and very harsh punishments, but having their authority reviewed by a court is not unthinkable. At common law, courts have jurisdiction over decisions made by guardians for legally incompetent individuals under the doctrine of parens patriae (i.e., the court is the ultimate “parent” of the state). In theory, a child can take a parent to court over various matters as well. There is a catch, though: in general in common law jurisdictions, a minor (with jurisdiction- and situation-specific exceptions) doesn’t have standing to file a lawsuit alone, but must have an adult file the lawsuit in their name (this adult is variously called a “guardian ad litem”, a “next friend”, a “litigation guardian”, etc., depending on the jurisdiction). This, however, is not an insurmountable problem and the litigation guardian can be any competent adult, e.g. your older sibling, a neighbor, etc. In some jurisdictions, the court might even be willing to appoint one for you.
Here are the cases that I know about. I will start with Canada, where (in a very general sense), the law tends to see parental authority as existing for the purpose of ensuring the interests of the child rather than as a personal entitlement of the parent. Furthermore, the landmark 1985 British case Gillick v. West Norfolk and Wisbech area Health Authority, where the then-highest British court ruled that parental authority (in England and Wales and, I believe, Northern Ireland) is not absolute but diminishes as the child gets more mature, now also has weight in Canadian jurisprudence. I know of two court cases where a minor successfully had a court override a parent’s wishes regarding the minor’s person:
The 2008 Quebec case Droit de la famille - 081485. Article 159, Paragraph 2 of the Quebec Civil Code allows a minor, with the court’s permission, to file a lawsuit alone (i.e. without a guardian’s permission; in Quebec, which is not a common law jurisdiction, a minor is normally represented in court by their “tutor” or legal guardian) on a matter concerning the authority of their parents. In this case, a 12-year-old girl whose parents were separated was forbidden by her father from attending an end-of-year school trip to to the provincial capital. He claimed to have done so in part as a punishment and in part out of concern for the girl’s safety. Owing to family conflicts in the father’s blended family household, the girl had recently left and gone to live with her mother, who supported her going on the trip, but the school required the permission of both parents, so the girl (not her mother - the girl in her own right, with a lawyer’s help) filed the lawsuit. The court considered the facts and concluded that, while a lawsuit of this kind needs a good reason to be justified, that the father had already punished the girl once by forbidding her to participate in a school show, that the trip was perfectly safe and educational, and so ordered that the father’s consent be substituted to allow the girl to go on the trip. Though the girl went on the trip, the father appealed out of principle, and lost.
In the 2019 British Columbia case A.B. v. C.D. and E. F., a 14-year-old transgender boy diagnosed with gender dysphoria wanted to start transitioning hormone therapy. His father objected and got a court injunction against the treatment. With his mother’s support, the boy applied to the BC Supreme Court via a family court claim. (Analogously to Quebec, section 201 subsection (1) of the BC Family Law Act states that " A child has the capacity to make, conduct or defend a proceeding under this Act [i.e. in a family law matter] without a litigation guardian if the child is (a) 16 years of age or older, (b) a spouse, or (c) a parent and subsection (2) allows a court to allow “…a child who is not described in subsection (1) to make, conduct or defend a proceeding under this Act without a litigation guardian.”) The court found that the boy truly had gender dysphoria and that the medical treatment was in his interests. Therefore, it ordered that the boy can proceed with the treatment and further that any attempt to persuade him to abandon treatment for gender dysphoria, addressing him by his birth name, and referring to him as a girl or with female pronouns whether to him directly or to third parties was “family violence” under section 38 of the Family Law Act. In a subsequent appeal by the father, the court upheld the boy’s choice of treatment, though it quashed the part of the ruling declaring future behaviors family violence, arguing, basically, that such things could not be pre-set by the court.
In the United States, the law seems to traditionally be more favorable to the idea of parental rights as a personal right of the parent; although the principle of the best interests of the child has received some recognition, American law/courts seem to still be more favorable to the idea of parental authority as a parental entitlement than Canadian courts. I have found very little jurisprudence of the above kind in American cases; a few very old cases from early American history may be of relevance, but I don’t have the pertinent information on hand and the cases may not be relevant for the present state of the law, so I will mention the one case on which I have a reasonable amount of information. It is In the Matter of the Welfare of Lee Anne G., decided in Minnessota in 1972. I wish I had an actual transcript but all the information I have comes from secondary sources, so I will extensively paraphrase. It’s a very interesting case. Lee Anne was the oldest of several daughters, 14 according to one source, 16 according to another. Her family was about to fulfill a longtime dream of sailing out on a 40-foot-long boat and spending one to several years at sea, where the girls would be homeschooled. Lee Anne, not surprisingly given that she was in her teen years, objected (imagine being a teenager and having to spend your final years of growing up away from your peers and more or less only in the company of your immediate family). She wanted to stay behind and be near her circle of friends, in particular her boyfriend, whom her parents disapproved of. The parents insisted she go with them on the trip; Lee Anne went to court. She didn’t have a guardian ad litem, but the court appointed one. The judge duly considered the question of whether Lee Anne had standing to bring such a matter to court. He ruled that she did. He then considered whether a minor had the right to decide any such matters in place of their parents. He stated that as a general matter of law, they did not; that the parents had the right to decide about matters of their children’s upbringing, and that the court would follow the parents’ plan, unless it was found to be detrimental to the child. Going from this, the judge found that being forced to go on the boat trip would be distressing to Lee Anne and thus ruled that she didn’t have to go with her family; however, he ordered an alternative parent-approved option: that she stay behind with an aunt in another state. In this way, she would presumably have led something like a normal teen life stateside while her family was away, but would have been separated from her boyfriend. I wonder if there are any more recent American cases in any state that are more favorable to the notion that minors can make more of their own decisions as they get older (akin to the British Gillick case that I referenced above).
I know of one more case, this time from France. Again, I know about it from a secondary source, and it wasn’t reported in much detail, so I don’t know if the child herself was the actual plaintiff, but let’s say that she was. Apparently, it concerned a girl, I think somewhere in her teens, who had very strict religious parents. The court reportedly ruled that the girl did not have to obey her parents in matters of religion. However, I don’t have any further information.
Does anyone know of any similar court cases?