Child Abuse & Neglect Article


Child Abandonment

What is Child Abandonment?

When most people hear the term “child abandonment,” they visualize the baby left on a church doorstep, or, as recently happened, a baby left in a supermarket shopping cart.  Yet, those “child abandonments” are relatively rare.  More often, children are abandoned in complicated and ugly domestic situations.  The drug addict who leaves her children with friends for months at a time without contacting them; the father who leaves the state with his new girlfriend and leaves no forwarding information; the woman who will be in prison for 7-10 years and fails to communicate with her children – these are the more common child abandonment scenarios.

Arizona law defines child abandonment by statute.  Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S), Section 8-531(1) provides us with a legal definition of the term. 

“Abandonment” means the failure of a parent to provide reasonable support and to maintain regular contact with the child, including providing normal supervision.  Abandonment includes a judicial finding that a parent has made only minimal efforts to support and communicate with the child.  Failure to maintain a normal parental relationship with the child without just cause for a period of six months constitutes prima facie evidence of abandonment."


What exactly does this definition mean?  First, under Arizona law, every parent has a duty to financially support his or her children.  (A.R.S. §§12-2451, 25-501).  The parent who doesn’t provide financial support will have a major strike against him or her in an abandonment inquiry.  Parents must also maintain regular contact with the children. For the parent who lives in another state or country or for the parent who is incarcerated, this means visitation, phone calls, letters and gifts.  The parent must make a reasonable effort to maintain a relationship with the child. 

There is no “intent” element to abandonment.  That means it doesn’t matter if the parent did not intend to abandon the child.  The fact that time got away from the parent, that he or she simply fell out of contact with the child is irrelevant.  It’s the parent’s actions that count, not good intentions.

Child Abandonment and Child Neglect are Criminal Offenses

Child neglect and child abandonment often go together.  Child neglect is defined by A.R.S. § 8-201 (25).  The definition includes failing to provide clothing, food, shelter or medical care.  It also includes permitting children to be around toxic, volatile substances or drug manufacturing.  Children who are exposed to illegal drugs, and physically or sexually abused children are also considered neglected.  Babies born with illegal drugs in their system meet the definition of a neglected and abused child. 

Parents who neglect or abandon their children may be subject to criminal prosecution.  The minimum charge under A.R.S. § 13-3619 would be for a class 1 misdemeanor.  The possible penalties if convicted are: up to 6 months in prison, 3 years of probation and a $2,500 fine. 

If the District Attorney’s Office thinks it is warranted, it can prosecute under A.R.S. § 13-2623, which is a felony statute.  Under §13-2623, a parent can be prosecuted for “negligently” abandoning or neglecting the child. If convicted of this class 4 felony, the parent will serve a minimum prison term of one year.  If the parent “recklessly” abandons or neglects the child, he or she may be prosecuted under the same statute for a class 3 felony with a minimum prison term of 2 years.   If the jury finds that the parent “intentionally” abandoned or neglected the child, the penalty for this class 2 felony will be a minimum of 4 years in prison.

Child Abandonment and/or Neglect May Result in the Termination of Parental Rights

If the Arizona Department of Economic Security, through Child Protective Services, determines that the parent has abandoned the child or seriously neglected the child, the agency has the legal obligation to pursue action to terminate parental rights to the child.  How the agency handles the situation depends on the circumstances.  The state recognizes the fundamental right of a parent to parent his or her child.  For that reason, Child Protective Services will attempt to rehabilitate the parent and keep the family intact when possible.  For example: If mom or dad have drug or alcohol dependency, the agency will offer rehabilitation services and visitation with the child in the hope the parent can succeed in rehabilitation, become gainfully employed, and become able to create a stable home for the child.  

On the other hand, we see instances where reunification of the family is neither feasible nor desirable.  In those instances, the state will pursue a severance action.  When a severance action is initiated, the parent has the right to an attorney. The attorney will advocate for the parent in court. The state must prove its case for severance by clear and convincing evidence.  If the court terminates the parent’s rights, the parent has the right to appeal the decision.  

On appeal, the court considers the parent’s rights and the parent’s actions and balances the parent’s interests with the best interest of the child.  Michael J. v. Arizona Department of Economic Security, 196 Ariz.246, 995 P.2d 682 (2000).  In the Michael J case, the Arizona Supreme Court talked about the best interests of the child including a speedy determination of who will raise and nurture him.  The Court discussed the child’s need for stability and a normal childhood and that the child’s needs had to be a major consideration in the decision.

Resources

https://www.azleg.gov/arstitle/ (Arizona Statutes on State Legislature website)

https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1292043/michael-j-v-arizona-dept-of-economic-sec/
(Michael J. Decision)

Comments:

QUESTIONS

  • How do you prove neglect? my husband and myself are trying to get custody of his 9 year old son. He is the second oldest of 5 children. My husband was never married to this woman. We feel that she has not created a safe environment for him, let alone the rest of her children. How do I start the process?
  • I have a 1 year old son. I am the temporary primary father the first visitation of the mother from 10 am to 2pm i told her of a rash and what has to be done she not only refused to do it she made it worse and returned him with a full diaper. As primary parent can i refuse the next visitation time
  • My ex and I just settled for joint cussady. He has a history of abuse. My son just told me tonight that his dad hit him and not to kiss his forhead because it still hurts. What should I do?
  • I need help. My question is where can I apply for divorce and custody for my kids. The mom has a drinking problem and does not take care of my kids. She drinks constantly and leaves them alone unsupervised when I'm at work. The mom has 3 DUIs that I know.
  • I have been charged with child neglect in Pima County and am scared to death about what may happen at the court date! Two incidents have been recorded...the twins broke the lock on the back door and ran out of the apt, were picked up by a neighbor 5 mintues later and taken to the apt complex office - #2 was a call made stating that the children were unattended to for over an hour outside (which is not true) - advice on how to handle the court date?
  • I am currently caring for a 14 month old who isn't blood related at all. He has lived with me for over 9 months now and his mom left him at a friend's cuz she had been involed in an incident where cops were coming for her and she ran. She currently hS a warrent and is still on the run but has only asked about her son a handful of times and has not seen him since she left him that day in his stroller behind the house alone. How do i go about getting rights to this little one as he is already calling me mom im the only thing he has known it would kill both of us to let her just take
  • My daughter was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her father. Now he is trying to get access to her since the criminal investigation has not resulted in charges because there were no witnesses. How can I find a lawyer to protect her?
  • My ex-husband has been out of the picture for over 3 years. No child support, no contact with the three kids for this entire time. I re-married and my husband and I have taken care of them. I have full custody of my kids and wish to terminate his parental rights due to lack of contact and failure to be there for them in every sense of the word. He also lives in a different state and could have supervised visitations if he wanted to but has chosen not to. There’s also a history of domestic violence and alcoholism from his part therefore the supervised visitations.
  • where all of the adopted assistant checks go when I ran away for 3 years in a row?
  • my son was 18 and his girf 17yoa when she got pregnant..it was consentual and both parents talked about the situation. my son has been supporting the baby but has no legal custody. exgirf and father have been harassing my son about giving exgirf money as child support and my son told him no and exgirfs father told son that he is pressing charges on him because daugh was 17 and he was 18 when she got pregnant. he has proof of support of child with receipts. what can he do?

STORIES

  • He told me that I could actually get all the money I needed by using my home as collateral. . .
  • Age discrimination in the workplace. . .
  • If you get a divorce, make sure your date of birth is on the Decree if your name is changing!. . .

LegalLEARN

YOUR FEEDBACK IS NEEDED

FIND LEGAL HELP

  • Please select your county of residence below.

    County:
     

OTHER LEGAL RESOURCES

  • State Bar of Arizona
    www.azbar.org
  • Maricopa County Bar
    www.maricopabar.org
    Referral number 602-257-4434
  • Pima County Bar
    www.pimacountybar.org
    Referral number 520-623-4625
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline
    800-799-7233
  • Bankruptcy Court Self Help Center
    866-553-0893
  • Certified Legal Document Preparer Program
    Link

ORGANIZATIONS