Safe Haven Laws
Authored by Ken LaMance
, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law
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What is a Safe Haven Law?
A Safe Haven Law is a law which permits a person to legally surrender an unharmed, newborn baby at locations specifically designated by law. Safe Haven laws permit only the baby’s parent or the parent’s agent to relinquish the newborn. Such laws were passed with the intention of creating mechanisms for preventing relinquishment of infants that might be harmful or dangerous to the child.
Safe Haven laws can offer many protections for both the newborn and the parent, such as granting the parent immunity from prosecution. However, in order for such protections to be available, the surrender of the child must take place in a manner that fully conforms with state laws.
Depending on the state where they are enacted, Safe Haven laws are known by many other names such as: Baby Moses laws, Safe Arms for Newborns laws, Safe Place laws, Safe Surrender Laws, or Safe Delivery laws.
What Types of Areas or Places are considered Safe Havens?
Under Safe Haven laws, locations for abandonment are typically called “Safe Surrender Sites”. Commonly designated places include hospitals, emergency rooms, fire or police stations, churches, adoption agencies, and health care organizations. The main point is that the infant will be transferred to persons who are trained to provide immediate care and attention for the baby.
What Types of Legal Protections for Parents are offered under Safe Haven Laws?
The main protection offered by Safe Haven laws is the anonymity of the surrendering parent. A parent who conforms to Safe Haven requirements in good faith will usually be kept nameless before a court of law. This protects them from criminal charges such as neglect, child abuse
, or abandonment
, which are serious charges and carry strict penalties. If surrender of a child is not in conformity with the law, there is a chance that the parent will be prosecuted under one or more of the above criminal charges.
What are the Legal Requirements for Surrendering an Infant at a Safe Surrender Site?
The most important legal requirement is that the child be within the age prescribed by state Safe Haven laws. The maximum age varies depending on the state- some states require that the child be surrendered within three days after birth; other states have a maximum of up to one year after childbirth. These age limits were imposed due to former abuses of the Safe Haven system. Some parents had been abandoning older children and teens while being allowed to remain anonymous. This has since been addressed, and all states make it clear that only infants can be legally surrendered without penalty.
Another legal requirement is that the infant be unharmed. If there is evidence that the child has been harmed or otherwise neglected, then the surrendering parent will lose all their protections. A government agency such as a state child protection agency may intervene and initiate formal proceedings against the parent. They will then determine if any criminal charges apply, and whether legal penalties should be imposed upon them.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Concerns over Safe Haven Laws?
Surrendering an infant is a major decision that must be approached with caution. Of course, relinquishment is sometimes necessary due to extreme hardships or in the interests of the child’s safety. Working with a family lawyer can help ensure that the surrendering parent is acting according to the standards defined by Safe Haven laws.
Also, if the parent is facing criminal charges, then an attorney will be absolutely necessary to prepare for the court proceedings. Since every state has different Safe Haven Laws, it may be necessary to consult with an attorney who can explain the specific laws in detail.
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Last Modified: 12-15-2010 03:16 PM PST
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