Legal Matters for Families

It is important that you know some of the laws designed to protect children in the U.S. Violation of some laws may result in payment of a fine, others may result in arrest.

Car Safety Seats

California law requires that anyone riding in a moving car must be wearing a seat belts. Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. Children under the age of 8 who are 4' 9" or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the back seat. Children who are 8 years and over shall be properly secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system or safety belt. Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California's Mandatory Seat Belt law.

Children under 2 years old must be secured in a rear-facing car seat.

Please refer to the California Vehicle Restraint Laws.

Unattended Children 

There are strict laws about leaving very young children alone, either in cars, in public, or at home. The law states that it is a crime to leave anyone in a car who is incapable of getting out without help. These laws stem from cases where young children have died from being left in cars with closed windows in warm weather. In addition, it is considered "child neglect" to leave very young children unattended (such as outside of a restaurant) or home alone. It is better to awaken a sleeping child than to risk their possible harm and/or face arrest.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is a very serious crime in the U.S. Teachers and care givers are required by law to report any suspected cases of child abuse.

Domestic Violence

Of course, it's illegal to commit an assault, battery, or criminal threat against anyone. But if the alleged victim is your fiancé, spouse, cohabitant, dating partner, or the parent of your child, California domestic violence laws make the allegation much more serious.  See the California Courts website for more information.

Accepting Public Assistance

Nonimmigrants are not eligible for public assistance in the U.S. (Public assistance includes programs such as MediCal, Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Food Stamps). However, the costs of health insurance for student, scholars, and their family members can be quite high. Unfortunately, some people may be unable to bear the financial burden and choose to risk not having health insurance coverage. When they are unexpectedly faced with the birth of a child, some families may turn to the aid of the U.S. government. In some cases, hospital staff or doctors may even suggest that an international student or scholar take advantage of such public assistance.

The fact that you may be encouraged to sign up for public assistance by hospital staff or other "official" does not mean that you are eligible. The consequences of accepting such assistance are that if you leave the U.S. and want to return, you may be stopped at the U.S. border and denied entry until the amount of public assistance you received has been repaid.

Having a Baby and U.S. Citizenship 

If your baby will be born in the U.S., he or she will be considered a U.S. citizen. U.S. laws do not require that your baby give up citizenship from your home country (if they are considered as such by the laws of your country), but your home country may not accept the dual citizenship status. Contact your home country embassy in the U.S. to register their birth and to inquire about citizenship. Parents of a U.S. citizen child are eligible to apply for U.S. permanent resident status when the child is 21 years old.

To travel and re-enter the U.S., your child will need a U.S. passport. You can obtain the application from the Berkeley Post Office, 2000 Allston Way, or download the forms from the U.S. Department of State web site.

Scam & Fraud Awareness

Check out our Scams and Safety page for precautionary tips.