Child abandonment can be defined as when a person in charge of a child or children or a guardian or parent in charge of a child or children either deserts the child or children without consideration for the safety, welfare or physical health of the child or children ,or has the intention of abandoning the child or children and in certain circumstances it may also be defined as failing to provide the appropriate and needed care for a child or children who live with them. As well as physical abandonment, child abandonment can situations include what is known as emotional abandonment where a parent offers little to no emotional support and/or physical contact over prolonged periods of time. Sadly, children who face these issues often become adults with issues such as emotional dependency, helplessness and very low-self-esteem as well as a myriad of other issues.
Someone who is charged with deserting a child or children may face severe criminal penalties.
What Is Childhood Abandonment?
Childhood abandonment is wide category and can describe many behaviors and actions. Some examples include:
- Only minimal efforts are made to communicate and support a child or children.
- Leaving an infant child or children in dumpsters, trash cans, on the side of the road or doorsteps.
- Leaving a child or children with another party without providing provisions for the support of the child or children and with no meaningful conversation with the child or children for in excess of three months.
- Not participating in an appropriate program reuniting the parent or guardian with a child or children.
- Not having regular visits for 6 months or longer with a child or children.
- Unwilling to be the provider of care, supervision or support for the child.
- Absence from the home for a such a time that it poses a risk of harm to the child or children.
Child Abandonment Laws
Laws differ depending on the state you and the child or children reside in. some states have specific laws regarding child abandonment, whereas others consider it under already established child abuse laws. Most states consider the abandonment of a child or children as a felony. This includes when a guardian or parent physically abandons a child or children when they have the intention of the relinquishment of all their responsibilities and rights towards said child or children. On the other hand, some states classify this as a misdemeanor (usually invoking less harsh penalties) considering acts of abandonment that are not physical in nature. In both sets of circumstances, child abandonment is frequently defined as:
- Leaves a child or children typically beneath 13 years of age without the supervision of a responsible person (normally thought to be over 14 years of age.)
- Failure to keep contact with the child or children and not providing reasonable levels of support for specified time periods.
Speaking from a standpoint of criminality, the definition of child desertion is the physical abandonment of a child or children but in some states, it can include what is termed emotional abandonment and failing to provide needed, food, shelter, clothing and medical care for their child or children.
Mandated Reporting Laws
As some states qualify the abandonment of a child or children as a form of child abuse, certain people in the realm of the child or children may have a legal obligation to report suspected or known situations to the appropriate authorities. Regulations and rules change depending on the state you are in so you will need to check to see if you fit the criteria of being what is called a “mandatory reporter.”
Safe Haven Legal Exceptions
Safe Haven laws in most states have exceptions to child abandonment laws. These Safe Haven laws allow mothers to abandon their infants who are newborn in what has been established as a safe place, such as fire stations, houses and churches without them having to fear being charged with the abandonment of a child or children.
Leaving A Child Alone at Home
Sometimes it may be unavoidable to leave a child or children at home without supervision. In general, states offer guidance to help parents avoid charges of child abandonment, Some states have statutes that will weigh a number of factors when deciding to pursue a charge of child abandonment such as the length of time the child or children were left alone, economic hardship or illness of the guardian or parent responsible for the child or children and the age of the child or children.
Punishment and Penalties for Child Abandonment
Depending on the state where they reside, an individual who is facing charges of child abandonment may be having to consider wide ranging punishments and penalties as well as multiple sentencing options, largely dependent on whether the state considers the abandonment of a child or children as a misdemeanor or crime. It is worth knowing a court can impose not only the termination of parental rights and jail time but also qualify supervised access to the child or children in the future and financial penalties in the form of fines. There is also a possibility an individual will have to face charges of reckless abandonment that has a far harsher penalty should a child or children die for a reason linked to their desertion.
Loss of Parental Rights
Most states maintain a parent is deemed to have abandoned a child or children following a period of two years when they have limited their financial support and contact. This abandonment can result in a parent losing their rights to the child or children. Nonetheless, a parent is not in a position where they can elect or make a choice regarding the forfeiture of these responsibilities and rights. Indeed, even in situations where there is little to no doubt that a child or children have been willfully abandoned, it is the viewpoint of most states they will not take the legal steps to terminate the rights of a parent except in circumstances where there is another figure willing to take on the role of a parent and who is in a position to formally adopt the child or children.
Source: “My Wife Cheated On Me and I Want a Divorce.” Maples Family Law, 17 Jan. 2019, https://www.maplesfamilylaw.com/divorce/my-wife-cheated-on-me-and-i-want-a-divorce
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