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The “Abandonment” Argument in Child Custody

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In many cases involving child custody negotiations or stepparent adoption, the termination of parental rights is a key element. One common argument brought up in court for the termination of parental rights is child abandonment, often brought by one parent against the other. In today’s blog, we discuss the specific elements of the “abandonment” argument in California and situations when this might arise in court.

What Is Defined as “Abandonment” in California?

Child abandonment is a key factor that could lead to the termination of parental rights. If a child has been left with a non-parent for 6 months or more or with the other parent for 1 year or more without contact or support, that constitutes abandonment from the parent.

In general, child abandonment occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person that has physical custody or control of a child acts without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of the child and knowingly leaves a child (under the age of 13) without supervision by a responsible person over the age of 14 or fails to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

More specific examples of abandonment that may lead to charges include:

  • leaving a child with another person without provision for the child's support and without meaningful communication with the child for a specific time period;
  • making only minimal efforts to support and communicate with a child;
  • failing for a period of at least 6 months to maintain regular visitation with a child;
  • failing to participate in a suitable plan or program designed to reunite the parent or guardian with a child;
  • leaving an infant on a doorstep, in trash cans and dumpsters, or on the side of the road;
  • being absent from the home for a period of time that created a substantial risk of serious harm to a child left in the home;
  • failing to respond to notice of child protective proceedings; or
  • being unwilling to provide care, support, or supervision for the child.

Arguing Abandonment in a Child Custody Case

There are specific situations in which a parent or potential adoptive parent may want to argue a case of abandonment in court. If abandonment has been proven, the court may order to terminate the parental rights of the parent who abandoned the child and thus enable adoption to proceed.

This is commonly the case in a stepparent adoption, as in order for a stepparent to adopt a child, both biological parents need to consent to the adoption. If one of the biological parents cannot be located or if they refuse to consent to the adoption, the biological parent who has custody may seek a termination of the refusing parent’s rights based on the grounds of abandonment, such as failing to provide properly for the child. Note that the biological parent who is looking to terminate rights bears the burden of proof needed to show the alleged abandonment in court.

Another situation in which abandonment may be relevant in court is when the biological mother wants to place the child for adoption, in which case they need the consent of the biological father to complete the adoption. If the biological father is rather uninvolved in the child’s life, you may be able to argue abandonment to carry on with the adoption, though you may be required to show attempts to notice the father. This will depend on your situation, and an experienced attorney can guide you through this process to ensure a smooth process.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for Legal Counsel Today

Whether you seek to amend your child custody agreement, pursue stepparent adoption, or place your child for adoption, it is critical that you terminate the other parent’s rights before further legal steps. Hiring an experienced attorney familiar with child custody and termination of parental rights can help streamline the process and provide you reliable legal counsel throughout your case. Our team at Claery & Hammond, LLP can assess your situation and help you craft the abandonment argument as necessary to move forward.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today to schedule your free initial consultation.

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