What is an Absent Parent?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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"Absent parent" is a legal term that may define the way some parents relate or fail to relate to their children. These parents are not the custodial parent, or the parent with whom a child lives. Instead, they are non-custodial parents who do not reside with the child.

There are a couple of ways the term absent parent can be used. Once child custody arrangements are determined, the parent who does not live with the child, and who usually only has visiting rights without sharing custody, is the absent parent. This parent can still be involved in a child’s life and pay child support, but he or she doesn’t live with the child, so he or she is absent or missing from the child’s daily life.

Another form of absent parent is one who is completely missing from the child’s life, fully abandoning the child and having nothing to do with him or her. Some parents ignore things like the child support payments they should make, or make no effort to participate in their child’s life. In the latter case, this is usually a father who learns of having fathered a child, but who never offers any form of support. This doesn’t necessarily make these fathers deadbeat dads if the mother has requested a father not be involved in the life of the child.


When absent parents skip out on paying any form of child support, the matter is different. Where sometimes a person is absent by mutual and voluntary arrangement of the mother and father, those who are absent themselves from a child’s life to avoid support payments can face back payments when they are caught. The absent parent may be responsible for some support payments if a mother and child have at any time used social services like welfare — even if the agreement that one parent would be absent was informally reached. To avoid this, parents have to go to court and sever the parental rights of the uninvolved parent. This same requirement may exist if at a later point, the custodial parent remarries and has a spouse who would like to adopt the child of the absent parent.

Both "deadbeat" dads and moms may need to pay back payments of child support, and courts can seize assets to help make these payments or garnish paychecks. When parents purposely avoid fulfilling their responsibility to their children, custodial parents can use investigators or a variety of services to locate them. Once found, absent parents usually will need to appear in court to discuss their failure to pay adequate child support and are generally given information on new payments they will make that could be deducted immediately from paychecks or other earnings.


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Post 1

I recently learned my husband, a Florida resident, had a Florida judgment in 1985 awarding $27,000 to the Ocean County Social Services, NJ, in back payments for welfare payments to his ex-wife and two small children. I checked and this award is now worth $68,000.

Ocean County is "not interested" in pursuing this. Can you believe that? My husband makes more than $50,000 a year and we have no bills so he can easily afford to pay but the government can't be bothered.

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