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What is Child Abandonment?

The legal term abandonment has many different uses. In law, abandonment is the renunciation or relinquishment of a privilege, right, possession, claim, or interest, usually with the intent of never reasserting or resuming it again. This intentional action can take the form of discontinuance or a waiver. One type of abandonment is child abandonment, which is the practice of giving up or relinquishing claims and interests over an individual’s offspring with the intention of never reasserting or resuming them. Causes of child abandonment include many different cultural and social factors or mental illness.

One of the largest causes of child abandonment is poverty, particularly in cultures or societies with low quality social welfare systems where individuals are not financially capable of being financially responsible for child. Political conditions, such as difficult adoption proceedings or lack of proper institutions, can also contribute to child abandonment. Cultures or societies with liberal adoption laws and stable social structures often have lower child abandonment rates.

What is Considered Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment is categorized broadly to describe many different actions. Specific examples can vary, but some common actions that can result child abandonment include the following:

• Only minimally communicating and supporting a child

• Failing to maintain regular visitation with a child for at least a six month period

• Leaving an infant in a dumpster, trashcan, the side of the road, or a doorstep

• Not responding to a notice of child protective proceedings

• Unwillingness to provide support, supervision, or care for the child

• Not participating in a plan or program designed for parent/guardian reuniting with a child

• Leaving a child with another individual without meaningful communication for a three month period and without leaving proper provisions for support

• Absence from home for a time period that can create substantial risk of harm to a child

Child Abandonment Laws

Child abandonment laws differ on a state to state basis. Some states include child abandonment statutes in relation to the state’s child abuse while other states have specific laws that explicitly discuss child abandonment.

Most states consider child abandonment to be a felony, and can include situations where a guardian or parent physically abandons a child with the sole intent of giving up all rights and responsibilities of taking care of the child. Other states consider the act of child abandonment as a misdemeanor with smaller penalties and include situations of non-physical acts of abandonment.

In a criminal setting, the act of child abandonment can be defined as both the physical abandonment of a child, but can also include the emotional abandonment of a child by failing to provide the child with any necessary needs. For example, certain states consider it an act of child abandonment if a parent or guardian does not provide the necessary food, clothing, medical care, and shelter for a child. However, some other states will only penalize a parent or guardian for child abandonment only if the parent has the intention of abandoning a child.

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