Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

Welcome

Law enforcement has a secret weapon in the War on Underage Drinking: 

Arrest the Parents

Once upon a time, crimes required passion, desperation or recklessness. Not any more. Now, your “crime” could be going out for dinner with your spouse and coming home a half hour earlier than your teen expected…or permitting your child to have three friends sleep over…or agreeing to help celebrate the varsity team’s big win.

Once, being called a Social Host was a compliment on your party planning skills…but this party is happening without your approval.

Today, being called a Social Host means you’ve been charged with an unintended crime of allowing teens to drink in your home. Not buying alcohol for teens or serving alcohol to teens; just not doing enough to prevent them from drinking in your home.

Let’s be absolutely clear: if you believe it’s okay to serve alcohol to other people’s children, this is not the site for you.

However, if your parenting style sits in the muddy middle between the Just-Say-No Prohibitionists and the Always-Say-Yes Permissivists, welcome to SocialHostLaw.com. This website serves to help caring, involved parents navigate the tricky issues of underage drinking and the law. Our goal is to answer the question:

How can we protect our families and ourselves if good parents are criminalized when teens disobey their rules?

SocialHostLaw.com is the source for parents and families for:

  • Up-to-the-minute news on the laws that affect you
  • The latest research on underage drinking
  • Resources to share with your friends and family
  • Community and Connection
  • And more

For quick information on Social Hosting, how to find the ordinance in your area and understanding the law, visit our FAQs and Social Host Law Primer pages

57 comments on “Welcome

  1. Chris
    July 25, 2021

    We live at a lake and they will be camping, playing volleyball, swimming etc. my assumption is there will be probably 30 of them which scares me. I should clarify this is my step-son so my opinion and requests mean nothing!

    My main question is This, if I leave the premises and leave for the weekend do I still hold any liability if there is a situation?

    My husband is a 61 year old that would much rather be a friend to his two children and not a parent. I will never change that, but I can’t allow his inability to parent put me in harms way.

    • Helene M. Epstein
      July 25, 2021

      Chris, it depends on your state. Even if you leave, your liability may still be an issue. This side has not been active for many years but the links to state laws are active and the state should be updating it. Check information for your sake. If the link is broken, just Google your state and “social host laws” as well as your county and “social host laws”. No one wants to throw your husband under the bus, but you can always point to fess website if you ever need to defend yourself against charge. Given the scenario you just elaborated, two things have increased: the chance of injury and the chance to be undetected by neighbors. I do wish you good luck.

  2. Chris
    July 25, 2021

    My husband and I differ our opinions of minors drinking. Our son who is 18 and an incoming college freshman want to have a large party at our home. I am 100% against them drinking…..if they want to drink NO PARTY…..if they agree to no alcohol then the can have the party. We live in the state of Michigan. My husband feels I’m being a dictator and doesn’t agree (surprise). What is our liability do we have (I have) if underage drinking accrues and they are caught? Also if I don’t agree and leave the home am I still potentially liable?

    • Helene M. Epstein
      July 25, 2021

      Hi Chris:
      Your view is the legal and moral view. Your husband’s put you and your son at legal risk since any “minor” between the age of 17 and 21 is at the same level of risk for being arrested, being charged as a social host, being charged with endangerment of minors even if they are a year or two older than he is, and lawsuits if any of the guests are injured during the party or after the party.

      If you and your husband are present during this event and the police catch wind of it during the party or after because someone is injured, you can lose your home, your work, any certifications if you are certified to do the work you do, and any contracts with clients if you own your own business. Your sons college placement will be withdrawn and if he has any scholarships, they will also be withdrawn. Of course, there is the sheer embarrassment of being splashed all over the local newspapers and the community Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other social media. Finally, and least importantly, it will affect your relationships with your friends.

      What are the odds of being caught? Pretty low if the party stays very quiet. Especially if the party stays very small. But here is how everybody who’s ever been caught has been caught. The music is too loud. Guests leave the party and disturb the neighbors walking away or walking to their car. Guests get into a car and have an accident. Guests get into an argument. Any of the female guests get drunk and get sexually harassed or assaulted there on your own property or on anyone else’s property after the party is over. You will definitely be included in that lawsuit and so would your son.

      Now, think about any, more innocent, party you’ve ever thrown for your son. Anybody trip and fall? Anybody cut their hand or bump their head? I have a son. I don’t think we’ve ever had a party without somebody getting hurt.

      If you want to be generous to your son, pay for him to have a party at a local restaurant that has a private room. Give him a budget and let him figure out how to best entertain his friends at a restaurant. After all, he is now 18 years old and ready for college. He should be able to figure it out.

      Personally, I would offer to buy wristbands at the local Dave & Buster’s or whatever other game emporium is near you that is cool, and agree to pay for the refreshments. They’ll have a blast and no one is at legal or moral risk. Good luck!

  3. Scott wodowski
    July 4, 2021

    I found out last night my 17 old son was drinking alcohol at his cousins wedding I just found out today and I am deeply upset I really don’t know what to too . Before I say something stupid I would like some advice!

    • Helene M. Epstein
      July 4, 2021

      I guess it depends on what concerns you most: that your son was drinking at all or that the caterer/host at your cousin’s wedding wasn’t more strict on who they served?

      The first concern requires a conversation with your son about how strongly you feel on the topic and why. Have you had conversations with your son before about drinking and why he should wait? I’m relatively certain that your son’s alcohol consumption was his own decision and he wasn’t forced to drink. Or is your concern about how much he drank? Again that requires a calm and supportive conversation with your son. There are many guides to having this conversation available online. I suggest reading one or two in order to have a fruitful discussion.

      If you are upset because the bartender served your son or no responsible adults at the wedding stopped your son from drinking, that’s a different conversation and needs to happen with the person responsible. Did you attend? If you did, then that responsibility is partly yours. The responsible person is probably not the cousin who just got married. It may be his caterer or the venue or some other friend or family member who was responsible for ensuring that children did not have access to alcohol.

      One overall note: emotions have no place in these conversations. Sharing how upset you are with your son is different then unloading your anger on him. And most parental experts would concur that yelling at him about his drinking would not be an effective approach. Emotions also don’t belong in a business setting when you speak to whoever the adult was in charge of the bar at the wedding. If this happened at someone’s home, you may want to share with them the potential legal consequences of serving minors. If this happened at a bar or restaurant, they are already aware of the consequences but you may want to warn them if it happens again you will call the appropriate authorities. And of course the most important thing in any business conversation is to be clearheaded on what your goal is. Do you just want an apology or do you need to express your anger and disappointment? If your goal is the latter, be aware that by doing so, you may end up severing ties if the responsible adult is a family member. You may wish to find a different outlet to express yourself. Everyone has something different that works for them. The last time I was extremely angry at a family member, I wrote her a note expressing my emotions. In fact I wrote eight different notes and then ripped them all up. It helped.

  4. Michelle
    June 27, 2016

    This law is bullshit. It’s getting to the point where you are not going to be able to have any of your children’s friends over for fear of them sneaking something in without your knowledge. So I guess it’s better that the kids drink out in a park or the woods and then drive their drunk assess home from where ever they decided to hang out and drink, because they are still going to do it. Kids will experiment and push boundaries regardless. Some stupid law that makes an innocent parent or “host” responsible for their choices is not the way to deal with the issue. Because if they get turned away from every house or back yard then they will just find someplace else to drink. Most likely someplace where they will get themselves hurt or worse. I guess the people who thought of this law never experimented or had an underage drink. It’s much better to send them away so they can drive around drunk trying to find a quiet place that they can let loose, yeah that sound like a great idea.

  5. Jodie
    May 10, 2016

    Any recommendations on how to change an ordinance in your community? My ex husband let my son have a New Year’s eve party where almost 100 children attended – he was there supervising the party, however, I received concerned messages from parents who saw snapchats from the party. Upon further investigation I learned that there was drugs (pot, acid), alcohol and underage sex (including a “threesome” with a 14 year old girl and two 16 year old boys). I had 7 snapchat videos, text messages and other documentation but he was not ticketed because the kids said he didn’t know they were drinking, etc (I even had a text from my ex saying he was taking keys which leads me to believe he did know), but somehow it wasn’t enough. I told the detective I was disappointed that it would have taken a child to die or be raped in that environment for it to be taken seriously. I do not believe that he had no idea. What parent allows a party of that magnitude and believes there are no drugs/alcohol? So now I am working on trying to change the ordinance. The hosting always seems to mean the parent knows there was drinking going on. Any ideas or wording you have seen?

    • HM Epstein
      May 10, 2016

      Jodie:
      Contact MADD in your area. They’re probably already working on this. But I recommend you hold off and read my website.

      In my opinion, the current social host laws are already overly stringent and too many completely innocent parents have spent years and their savings clearing their names. Time after time, we have seen the opposite of your statement that, “The hosting always seems to mean the parent knows there was drinking going on.” The truth is most of the time it’s the kids who are sneaking the alcohol and drugs past disengaged and/or overwhelmed adults, and in most communities, they are equally liable under the law.

      The whole thing is fraught with danger in every direction. Here’s what I mean. It is dangerous for the kids to drink or do drugs. If they do and you call the police, kids run away, which increases the danger of injury to the kids or the person they hit in their car driving away from the party. If you knew what was happening via snapchat and didn’t call the police while the party was happening, then you could be considered as responsible as your husband. If you did call the police, you actually put your son’s future at risk, since a more aggressive law enforcement agency might have brought charges against him when they couldn’t prove your husband knew what was happening. Minors are as liable as the adults if the police decide they are the host.

      If any of your allegations are true, then I would be more concerned about your son’s safety in your ex-husband’s home than about proving your ex needs jail time. If your husband knew and condoned such behavior, and you have evidence, I would suggest you contact your divorce attorney and amend the custody agreement. Besides, your son will be an adult by the time you can get a new ordinance passed.

      Hope that helps.

  6. Denise
    July 7, 2015

    I am being accused of offering alcohol to my daughter’s friends last summer, which never ever happened. Can the stupid drug addict mother that is accusing me file a report and can I be arrested for something that supposedly happened last summer? It is so absolutely ridiculous and this woman is constantly harassing me.

    • HM Epstein
      July 7, 2015

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re in this situation. However, it feels like we’re missing most of the pertinent details. Here’s what I can tell you: Statutes of limitations vary by jurisdiction, so I can’t know what your exposure level may be. It’s hard to prove you provided alcohol unless the children that were in your home on the night in question agree to testify against you. I suggest you clearly state in an email that you have never provided alcohol to minors and that you deny the charges. The other mother would have to go to the police, press charges, prove a credible witness before they would prosecute. Contact me if it gets that far.

      • sergio
        April 1, 2016

        What am I to do? I am being investigated in wisconsin for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. My own daughter is mad at me in a custody dispute. 16 yr old and she is lying that I allowed her to drink in my house and smoke Marijuana. I do not. She has snuck these things by me and has been grounded every time. But now she is lying due to her wanting to live with her mother

        • HM Epstein
          April 1, 2016

          I’m so sorry that you’re going through this right now. My recommendation is you speak with your divorce attorney immediately. She’ll have suggestions that will be far more appropriate than anything I can suggest.

  7. Me
    May 2, 2014

    Are you kidding me? I was arrested on the same charge and three years later, I am still haunted by my ordeal. I did not supply, condone, know about or send kids off my property that I knew to have been drinking. I told them at the beginning of the night no drugs or alcohol, (pull and read the police records) and yet they brought vodka and concealed it in water bottles and blue UV vodka in gatorade bottles (again, read the police reports) and I have endured a hellish nightmare. My legal battles were over 100K, not a mere $5000. I can not study in my field of choice because I can not pass a back ground check. My insurance company is being sued to the max by kids who broke my rules and then drove like fools, and by the way, the driver was NEVER charged with drunk driving, just a dozen other violations, one of which was driving on a suspended licence! But, his parents let him take the car! The second car stopped after they watched their friends crash and then DROVE AWAY! And I was charged because I left to get help? (police reports). The drivers of BOTH vehicles involved that night were recently arrested for selling cocaine and their friend who is suing my insurance company, recently had a party, the police showed up and charged a young man with underage drinking, BUT, no adult was arrested for social hosting? This law was created so that law enforcement could pick and choose who to “make a model” of. It certainly wasn’t created for Caleb Chaffee, Dean Esserman, or a lawyer who knowingly allowed alcohol at a 16th birthday party. Just sayin..

    • HM Epstein
      May 2, 2014

      I am so sorry to hear about your situation. And you have hit the nail on the head: most Social Host Laws are so poorly written that it left to law enforcement to decide who to arrest and who to let go. If you wish to contact me privately, I will wrote about your plight. Socialhostlaw@socialhostlaw.com

  8. Kirk Kirk Law
    April 16, 2014

    You can’t police your kids 24/7.

    • HM Epstein
      April 16, 2014

      Thank you for your interesting column about the issue, from a legal perspective.

  9. Joan
    March 26, 2014

    Glad I don’t have any kids. The muddy waters here are deep and dangerous. What if a kid sneaks in a bottle and spikes their sods or juices while the kids are alone for a second. What if they are already on a drug that they had taken at the other kid’s parents, home before ever arriving at your home? Then, they go out again to cause a car accident, etc. Who then, is responsible? Yikes.. Sad, sobering and frightening.

  10. healthy weight range
    May 7, 2013

    Very good article. I certainly love this website.

    Thanks!

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