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What is Child Abandonment?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 17, 2024
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Child abandonment occurs when parents relinquish parental duties and rights. Abandonment statutes in jurisdictions may vary, but what is common to most is that parents fail to communicate with the child or provide financial support and the necessities for living over an extended period of time, such as six months. The statutes often apply to minor children, less than 18 years old. A child is not considered abandoned if the custodial parent or other caregiver prevented the parent accused of abandonment from accessing the child. Discouraging visitation and causing an inability to communicate with the child can also be raised as legal defenses to defeat claims of child abandonment.

Parents who abdicate responsibility for communicating with or providing financial support for their children may be charged with child abandonment under criminal laws in many jurisdictions. The failure of a parent to provide a minor child with shelter or to pay for the child’s medical treatment is a punishable offense that can result in fines, imprisonment, or both. Child abandonment is often a family court matter in which custodial parents must first prove abandonment before they can proceed with adoption procedures or legally terminate the other parent’s rights. For example, a stepfather who wants to adopt an abandoned child may not be able to do so until the biological mother files a petition to the court showing that the child is abandoned and obtains a court order declaring so. The determination of whether the child is abandoned is often made on a case by case basis, but courts do refer to guidelines to help them evaluate the facts presented in each case.

Child neglect is one of the main factors of child abandonment cases. For example, the custodial parent can show that the other parent has withdrawn all child support, which indicates neglect. Many abandonment statutes also require the parent to show that the neglect was not temporary. The custodial parent must often prove that the intent of the other parent is to give up all of her duties and rights permanently. Some statutes include a time period that must elapse prior to filing a child abandonment case in order to show that intent.

If a custodial parent discourages visitation, refuses to accept financial support, or prevents access to a minor child, then he is often not successful in winning an abandonment case. A parent who is accused of abandonment may not be able to communicate with the child or provide the necessities of life. For example, if the parent is imprisoned, then the courts may not agree that the parent has abandoned the child.

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Discussion Comments
By anon341375 — On Jul 11, 2013

I did not abandon my child or give her up for adoption, but my parents have adopted her.

I went into the army to better my life for both myself and daughter and gave guardianship to my parents. Now I can't find them and have been told by the courts they have adopted her. I have signed nothing to agree to this. Please help.

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