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ASK THE JUDGE

When a Child Signs Up for Drug Treatment

December 24, 1988|JUDGE B. TAM NOMOTO | B. Tam Nomoto, an Orange County Municipal Court judge, answers readers' questions about the law. Ask the Judge runs every other Saturday in Orange County Life

Q My daughter is 14 years old. Recently, I have had problems getting her to do her homework and listening to me in general. My husband and I were not too worried over this as we thought she was just going through the typical teen-age stage.

Last week, I received a phone call from a counselor connected with a drug program for teen-agers at our local hospital. He told me that my daughter had enrolled in the program for help with her drug problem. He asked that my husband and I attend some sessions with her. I told him that this was the first we had ever heard of our daughter having any involvement with drugs.

Naturally, we want to help our daughter, but we do not have much money and have heard that this program is expensive. Are we in any way obligated by our daughter's enrollment or can we find another, less expensive program?

P.T.

A The general rule is that people under 18 years of age cannot enter into binding contracts. The reasoning behind this rule is that minors must be protected from their lack of judgment and experience.

An exception to this rule is when a minor who is 12 years or older contracts to receive medical treatment or counseling related to a drug or alcohol problem. The treatment facility must contact the parents if their involvement is necessary for treatment.

Your daughter's agreement does not obligate you to pay any costs. However, if you participate in the program, you will become liable for the cost.

Good luck to you and your daughter. The fact that she has enrolled in such a program shows that she is on her way to defeating this terrible problem.

Q A good friend of mine has asked for a loan of $1,000. I am reluctant to lend him the money because I know that is one way to end a friendship. He told me that the way to solve this was to make it a strictly business deal by signing a promissory note and paying interest.

I don't know how much interest to charge. I'm thinking of 18% per annum since that is the amount the bank charges me on my credit card purchases. Is this too much?

S.D.E.

A The maximum interest rate that an individual not in the business of lending money can charge is 10% per annum. An interest rate in excess of this amount would be called usurious and is illegal.

The penalty for a usurious interest rate is that no interest can be recovered. As a result, if your friend defaults on the loan, you would be able to recover the $1,000 but nothing else.

Your bank is obviously exempt from this rule since it is in the business of lending money. In addition, credit card sales are not viewed as lending money but as selling property or goods, and do not come under the usury law.

Q I have a very serious problem and do not know what to do. I believe that one of the children that I teach is being molested by her father. I can't tell her mother or the police because I'm not really sure. What should I do?

J.I.

A I am assuming from your letter that you are a teacher in a public or private school. If you are, the law requires that you report any form of suspected child abuse to the Child Abuse Registry.

Any report made by you would be confidential. The law also provides that you would be immune from any civil or criminal liability as the result of your report.

Failure to make the report is a misdemeanor punishable by 6 months in jail or a fine of $1,000.

The number of the Child Abuse Registry in Orange County is (714) 834-5353. The Child Abuse Registry will conduct the investigation and file a copy of the abuse report and its investigation report with the local law enforcement agency and the district attorney's office.

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