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What Is Parental Abandonment?

Parental abandonment involves leaving a child without adequate care.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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Parental abandonment is a deliberate decision to stop performing parental duties like providing a child with food and shelter. This can include clearly leaving a child in a vulnerable position without the intention of coming back, or leaving children in the custody of another person and failing to contact the person or follow up, demonstrating a lack of interest in providing the children with care. When parental abandonment occurs, a court can move to terminate parental rights so the children can be adopted.

Abandonment differs from surrender. People can choose to voluntarily surrender parental rights by signing paperwork to give up parental rights or by bringing a child to a designated safe haven. Safe haven laws have been passed in a number of regions to allow parents to surrender babies within days of birth if they feel they cannot care for them. Respite and foster care are also available for parents of older children who find themselves unable to care for them. In all these cases, people give up parental rights formally and take steps to provide for the child's welfare by leaving the child with caregivers.

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In parental abandonment, a parent or guardian leaves a child without adequate care. The law in most places requires parents to provide children with housing, food, and clothing. Failing to meet the basic needs of a child can constitute abandonment. This could include something like leaving a child in a hot car or other unsafe situation that could endanger the child's health or well being. It could also include a situation like leaving a marriage or partnership where children are involved, and not following up on the welfare of the children after leaving them under the supervision of the other partner. There is usually a waiting period, such as one year, before the partner providing childcare can bring the case to court to terminate the parental rights of the partner who left.

Legal handling of abandonment varies by jurisdiction. If one parents has abandoned the child, custody generally will fall to the remaining parent. When both parents appear to have abandoned a child, the child will usually be taken into care by a child welfare agency. It may be possible to place the child with family members or foster parents. Once the child is placed, an investigation can be conducted to learn more about the circumstances of the abandonment. The court may have grounds for immediately terminating parental rights and making the child available for adoption or there may be a waiting period. If the parent returns and demonstrates an ability to care for the child during this waiting period, parental rights will be retained.

Foster parents and family members caring for abandoned children can consult an attorney to get more information about parental abandonment laws in their region. Social workers also usually have information on parental abandonment and adoption.

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