Child abandonment laws are very strict in order to protect minors from harm. The law will penalize child abandonment with fines, jail time, and criminal charges. If parents are divorced and sharing custody, then a penalty of child abandonment may be changes to the custody agreement.
What is Child Abandonment?
A number of actions fall under the criminal charge of child abandonment. Obvious things like leaving a child in a public place or on someone’s doorstep when they are not home is child abandonment. But other actions like long-term neglect of the child’s emotional or support needs can constitute as child abandonment too.
Here are some examples of child abandonment:
- Failing to provide even the bare minimum for emotional support or communication needs of the child
- Failing to maintain the visitation schedule for six months or more
- Abandoning the child without communicating with the child or making preparations for their support for 3 months or longer
- Leaving home for long enough that the child was at risk from being left alone
- Clear unwillingness to supervise, support, or care for the child
- Not responding to child protection warnings or notifications
- Abandoning an infant in dangerous places like dumpsters, the side of the road, and garbage cans
Criminal Laws For Child Abandonment
In some states, child abandonment is included in child abuse laws, and in others, it is a separate criminal charge. Child abandonment laws vary in each state, and because a number of behaviors are classified as child abandonment, there are a number of different charges and penalties based on the circumstances of the case. For the crime of child abandonment, the defendant may receive a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge.
Some states even have a separate charge of child desertion to separately classify the act of physically leaving a child behind with no provisions for their care.
Child Abandonment Penalties
Child abandonment laws usually list a number of penalties that may be used to charge the defendant. It is up to the judge to set the penalty based on the circumstances of the case. Depending on the severity, possible penalties for child abandonment include:
- Termination of parental rights
- Revised custody rights
- Prison time
If the child dies as a result of the abandonment, then additional criminal murder or manslaughter charges may be filed too.
Additional Laws Regarding Child Abandonment
In addition to child abandonment laws, there are a number of laws that operate alongside in order to help enforce child abandonment laws. For example, state child abandonment laws will name parties who are mandatory reporters because of their profession and therefore must report any child abuse, neglect, or abandonment they witness. The list of mandatory reporters varies in each state but generally include professions such as healthcare professionals and teachers.
There is also an exception to child abandonment laws in order to ensure children are abandoned in places they have access to immediate attention. People can abandon their children at a church or a hospital without being charged with child abandonment. These safe haven laws usually only apply to newborn infants rather than grown children.
Leaving a child home alone is not always considered child abandonment, especially if the child is of an age to reasonably care for themselves for the period of time they are home alone. The courts will consider the age of the child, the self-sufficiency of the child, how long they were left alone, and the reason for leaving them alone. For example, if the parent couldn’t afford a babysitter and had to run an important errand, those factors will be taken into account by the judge. Most states issue guidelines for ages when it is safe to leave a child home alone.