Child abandonment is considered a crime in most jurisdictions. Child abandonment laws vary from state-to-state. Generally, child abandonment can be established when a parent or legal guardian of a child chooses not to have any contact with their child and they refuse to financially and emotionally support their child. The situation is aggravated if the child is left to fend for themselves without any adult supervision or guidance.  

What are some Examples of Child Abandonment?

Examples of child abandonment include:

  • Leaving a child home alone for an extended period of time which can put the child in substantial risk of harm; 
  • Leaving a child with a caregiver for a prolonged period without providing any financial support or communication;
  • In a visitation situation, failing to make efforts, over an extended period of time, to meet with the child during scheduled visitation times; or
  • Abandoning an infant or child on a doorstep, dumpster, or on the street, etc. (Some states do have safe haven laws allowing parents to safely give up their child, typically a newborn child, at a hospital, fire station and other designated safe locations.)

If a child is left alone, the age of the child is also taken into consideration. In most states if a child is under the age of 13, child abandonment laws may apply. Also, if a child is left with a caregiver, the minimum age of the caregiver is also taken into account. Most states consider a responsible caregiver to be over the age of at least 14. Otherwise, child abandonment laws may apply.

What are the Consequences of Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment is classified as a misdemeanor in some states and a felony in other states. So, depending on where one lives, the consequences could be vastly different. Penalties can range from monetary fines to jail time.

The risk of losing parental rights to the child is also a possibility in most states. Termination of parental rights occurs when the court concludes that the parent is unfit. It can also happen if the environment that the child is being raised in is dangerous to the child. If both parents lose their parental rights, the child may become a ward of the state or placed with a foster family.

Often times, child abandonment cases may also involve child abuse and neglect matters. Most states have rules in place wherein specific individuals must report child abuse, child neglect and in some instances child abandonment cases to law enforcement officials. Mandatory reporting typically applies to teachers, school counselors, doctors, nurses and other health care officials.

Are there any Defenses to Child Abandonment?

Each case must be reviewed by the court on an individual basis to determine whether or not there is a valid defense. One exception to the abandonment rule that is recognized by many states is known as the safe haven rule. This occurs when a newborn child is left with first responders (such as emergency room workers, firefighters and paramedics). 

The parent or parents have the intention of giving the baby up and place the baby in the care of another. A parent in this situation would not be prosecuted under child abandonment laws in most jurisdictions.

There are some instances where a parent leaves their child or children home alone for a short period of time. A court will consider the age of the children, the circumstances of the family, the amount of time the child was left alone and whether they were in any danger to determine whether child abandonment applies.

If a parent claims that a father abandoned their child and the father was not aware of the child’s existence, this may give rise to a valid defense. As with other defenses, the court considers many factors to determine the validity of the defense claim.

The court will review the entire matter, including any possible defenses, and determine what it considers to be the best scenario for the child or children involved in the case. A court’s priority is to find what is in the best interest of the child or children.

Should I Speak to an Attorney Regarding a Child Abandonment Issue?

It is important to note that in emergency situations where a child may be in immediate danger, local authorities should be called as soon as possible to assist the child.

If you or someone you know has questions regarding a situation involving a child abandonment matter, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal law attorney to discuss the best approach to resolve the matter. 

As mentioned above, the laws surrounding child abandonment laws differ depending on where one lives. Child abandonment charges can be a complex matter that can overlap with other legal areas. It is a good idea to speak to a lawyer that is familiar with the specifics of the local rules and regulations.