Child Abandonment

In law, the term “abandonment” may be used in a variety of legal issues, from contract law to real estate law, referring to the giving up or renunciation of an interest, privilege, possession, or right, with the intent of never reclaiming it. As the term applies to matters of Family Law, an individual may abandon a marriage, spouse, child, or property. While abandonment of a marriage or marital property is a civil matter to be dealt with in family court, abandonment of a child may also be a criminal offense for which the individual may face criminal charges. To explore this concept, consider the following child abandonment definition.

Definition of Abandonment


  1. The giving up or withdrawal of support from something or someone
  2. The act of leaving or deserting a person or property


1325-1375        Middle French abandoner

Types of Child Abandonment

Child abandonment occurs when a child’s parent or guardian willfully withholds emotional, physical, and financial support, with no regard for the child’s safety and welfare. This may include physical abandonment, such as leaving a child somewhere with no intent to return for him, or it may include failure to provide physical supervision, emotional support, and other necessities of life for a child living in the home. So-called “latchkey kids” may, in extreme cases, be considered abandoned by their working or otherwise absent parents.

Under the law, many parental behaviors lead to charges of child abandonment, including:

  • Leaving an infant on a doorstep, in a trash can, or on the side of the road
  • Being absent from the home for a period of time long enough to create substantial risk of harm to a child left in the home
  • Leaving a child with another person without providing for the child’s support, and with no meaningful communication with the child or caregiver for a period specified by statute, usually three months
  • Failing to maintain regular visitation with a child for a period of at least six months
  • Making only token efforts to support and communicate with a child
  • Refusing, or being unwilling, to provide supervision, care, and support for a child
  • Failing to participate in a parenting plan or program designed to reunite the parent with the child
  • Failing to respond to official notice of child protective or child custody proceedings

Child Abandonment Laws

Laws regarding child safety and welfare, abandonment, and abuse vary from state to state, though in most states child abuse and child abandonment laws go hand-in-hand. In many states, child abandonment is considered a felony, even if the child has not been physically harmed by the abandonment. Other states classify child abandonment as a misdemeanor, unless specifics of the crime suggest it should be raised to the level of a felony.

Criminal child abandonment is often defined as physically leaving a child somewhere, though it may also include failing to provide for the child’s basic needs, such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care. As with child abuse, child physical abandonment is subject to mandatory reporting by professionals defined by state law. Such mandated reporters include medical personnel, counselors or psychiatric care providers, teachers, and other professionals in close contact with children

Emotional Abandonment

Although the child abandonment laws describe certain acts that constitutional non-physical abandonment of children, the truth is, emotional abandonment is subjective. Any act or failure to act that leaves a child feeling unwanted, discarded, or insecure may be considered emotional abandonment under the laws of child safety and welfare.

Experts in child psychology have found that, in a child’s eyes, abandonment is more about the parent’s absence and failure to communicate or take an active role in his life, than any financial considerations. Many children feel it is their fault, and experience feelings of low self worth and shame. Because emotional abandonment by a parent has the potential to cause a lifetime of issues for the child, it is taken very seriously by the courts.

Termination of Parental Rights

Parents have a constitutionally protected right to raise, protect, and educate their children. Such rights generally include physical custody of the child, the right to prevent adoption of a child, the right to educate and discipline the child, and the right to control and manage the minor child’s income and property. When parents fail to provide for the child’s welfare and safety, however, their rights to parent the child may be terminated by the court.

While laws vary from state to state, each recognizes specific circumstances that create an unsafe environment for a child. The most common reasons for termination of parental rights include:

  • Abandonment of the child
  • Severe or persistent abuse or neglect
  • Abuse or neglect of other children in the home
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Long term mental illness of a parent
  • Long term drug or alcohol abuse by a parent
  • Failure to maintain contact with, or support of, a child
  • Having rights to another child terminated involuntarily

One parent’s rights may be terminated without affecting the rights of the other parent. In the event parental rights are taken from both parents, legal custody of the child lies with the State, which then bears the responsibility for finding a suitable placement of the child.

Requirements for Termination of Parental Rights

The parent-child relationship is seen, in the eyes of the law, to be a fundamental right afforded to all parents. Because of this, the process of terminating parental rights is protracted and difficult, and the court will only grant a termination in rare cases. The burden of proof for involuntary termination of parental rights is very high, requiring clear and convincing evidence that at least one of the following applies:

  • Abandonment. A parent intentionally forsakes his duties to the child, failing to accept responsibility for the child’s financial, emotional, and physical support.
  • Failure to provide parental support. A parent repeatedly or continually neglects basic parental duties such as the provision of food, shelter, clothing, and education, or caring for the child’s physical and emotional needs.
  • Failure to provide financial support. A parent that has been ordered to pay financial support for a child continually fails to do so, despite being financially able to do so.
  • Foster care placement. A parent fails to correct conditions that resulted in a child being placed in foster care.

Child Abandonment Statistics

Each year in the United States, more than 3 million reports of child abandonment, child neglect, and child abuse are reported, these statistics touching the lives of more than 6 million children. This makes the United States one of the worst among industrialized nations for child abandonment and abuse.

Studies have shown that adults who report having 6 or more harmful or detrimental experiences in their childhood have a life expectancy shortened by 20 years. Child abuse, neglect, and abandonment are tied to increased incidence of such life-altering diseases as ischemic heart disease, liver disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”).

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Necessities of Life – The bare essentials needed for survival, or to maintain a minimum standard of living.
  • Parenting Plan – A detailed proposal for custody and care of a child, including scheduled time the child will spend with each parent.
  • Child Custody Proceedings – Legal proceedings for the purpose of determining custody of a child, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the parents to the child.
  • Mandated Reporter – An individual required by law to report suspected child abuse or abandonment; usually professionals that have regular contact with children.


  • I have a child with a person who is keeping me away from my kid I haven’t seen her since she was born I’m paying child support come to find out cps took my child when I found out my kid was gone back to her mom no one can tell me anything I feel used what can I do

  • Depending upon the state, it has been only via experience of such nature that i know this, you must submit in writing to child support enforcement for the service address of the other parent and child or they wont tell you anything about them. Also, check public records pertaining to the other parent and cps they can only remove a child per court order, and usually with an open case. Also, if they did remove the child, even after giving the child back, check to see if the state has legal custody (ward of the state). That was the case with my stepson. Hope this helps.

  • Our relative repeatedly leaves her child with us for days, weeks without communication or provision…not even a response to child’s request to just hear her voice on the phone. This Has Gone On Since The Child Was Born in 2011. Does this qualify as abandonment?

  • How do I find out Abandonment laws for a specific state? Like Mississippi. I had my daughter 6 months ago, we did the paternity test and I got one email saying the days he wants her. That’s it, he’s got an abuse case pending against him about my two year old who is not biologically his. He has made no contact ( which is what I want) I don’t want him around my daughter who is biologically his, so I’m wondering if I can get him for abandonment and have his rights taken. We are also in the middle of a divorce but have to have the papers changed because my daughter has been born. I’m trying to figure out how long it has to be for him to not pursue her, for his rights to be taken.

  • My son’s father has been in an out of his life. Choosing when it’s convenient for him. Two weeks ago I was tired of the wait game. Will he show up or not, I had to work and could no longer depend on him so I found child care. He called the cops so I hate to be late for work an hand over my child to him. He is to have son for a week for Christmas, I found out that his step father picked up my son today Sunday the 20 of December 2015. To go out of state early Monday morning without telling me. So the father failed to have his son to go our of state. Can I file abandonment charges on the father..

  • wilberforce wekesa

    I sired a child out marriage and I normaly offer financial support now the mother who is working want me to pay her rent.kindly advice

  • Our situation is a bit different, our 18 month old niece has been living with us for several months now, her parents promised to pay child support to help with the upkeep of their daughter, they are no longer doing so and do not answer and phone calls or text messages. They have come to visit her a total of 4 times during the 4 months as have had her, they do not call and check on her. We want to adopt her, both of her parents currently both have warrants out for their arrest. What are our best options here?

    • I would call an adoption lawyer in your state. Someone with experience in adoption, not just a family law attorney. The court will need to either get the parents’ consent to the adoption or involuntarily terminate their rights, based on abandonment and unfitness of the parents. In most states, abandonment is after 1yr of no contact, but I’ve read about dozens of cases where the parents made “token attempts” to see their kids in that year and the court still terminated their rights.

      You could start by asking mom and dad if they would consent to the adoption first, because that would obviously make things much easier. Everything I’ve read is that it’s VERY hard to terminate a parent’s rights, but if you can prove she’s been abandoned and that it’s in the best interest of the child, it’s a long process, but a win. Get a lawyer.

      It is also very costly, so keep that in mind. I’m in the middle of a step-parent adoption (bio dad hasn’t attempted to see or support his kid in 6.5yrs and he’s contesting my husband adopting him) and so far we are looking at around $12k. That’s lawyer fees, court fees, home studies etc. It’s possible, but it’s tricky, so get good representation!

  • My daughters dad was ordered to pay support 7 months ago on June 14 an he has yet to make his first support payment and he also hasn’t seen her since September an he doesn’t call an talk to her on the phone either. My fiancé asked him in a text message why he doesn’t come get her an he answered by telling us that he has been drinking too much again and he doesn’t want want to be mean to her or make her dislike am anymore than she already does. I really don’t even know what what to do plus man I know it’s not your job it’s mine but u do great with her an u make a way better dad than me. So I’m not letting her go even if he did show up to get her because I feel she isn’t safe there. She told me the last time I let her go when she came back she told me that her dad and his girlfriend left her and the girls 6 year old son home alone at like 1 o’clock in the morning. She said he gave her his phone and told her if anything happened to call him or 911. So I want to get him with child abandonment, and financial abandonment and have his parental rights taken away so my fiancé can adopt her. The child support office is also no longer on my case, what can we do?

  • My sons father has not seen my son in almost three months. He hasnt called, texted, or seen my son at all in that time. Nov 3rd is the day he last seen him. he never called him for thanksgiving or christmas, nor did he see him. He has not bought anything for him either (diapers, wipes, ect) I have messaged him and have gotten no response. I have filled for Child Support already but nothing has happened yet. I also plan on filling for full custody, and changing my sons last name to mine. My question is though, can I have the court terminate his rights fully? if so, how do I go about that?

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