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

  • where all of the adopted assistant checks go when I ran away for 3 years in a row?
  • While I was with my Mom at her boyfriend's house in CA, my friend and I walked in on them watching porn in the living room. They didn't hear us come in so she doesn't know that I know. I told my Dad and he is trying to decide how to handle this. I want to know (and so does my Dad) if this is reason enough for my Dad to get sole custody. Now they both have joint physical custody. Has a crime been commited and how will the courts view this event? Thank you.
  • I have been told that my living situation with the kids is illegal. Currently we live in a small townhome and two boys and a girl live in the same room. The boys are 13 and 10 and the girl is 14. Are there laws against this?
  • I have 3 children their father has been in and out of prison since 2004, their last actual contact with him was in 2005. can i file for a severance under abandonment statue? He was released in 2007 and had certain court orders to abide by in order to recieve supervised visitation he failed to do so. What must i prove that he has abandone my children since I have been the sole provider for them with no help physically, financially from their father.
  • 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?
  • 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
  • I am going through a child paternity, custody, visitation, and child support case. I left arizona due to a domestic violence situation with my daughters father. I am in need of legal help and have tried yuma community legal services. He has paid for a really good lawyer which I have no money to afford one at all. He keeps doing things that I had no clue you could do and am terrified of losing my daughter to him because of this. He is not interested in the child for the right reasons. And the child would be in danger in his care. I am completly broke, any thing i can do to get legal help?
  • Is it considered abandonment of my children if I moved out of the home and moved maybe 4 blocks away? I left my husband but am still with my kids everyday.
  • I have been asked to appear in court in person during the month of September I am being charged with violation of ARS: 13-3619. Basically I left my son in a car for about 15 minutes with the windows rolled down because he absolutely REFUSED to get out of the car. Knowing I just had to pick up one item from the shoe store, I "ran in" to the store to get the item. I UNDERSTAND and take FULL responsibility for my lapse in judgement. My question...do you advise me to get a lawyer for this court appearance? What is the possible punishment for this violation?? Thank you!! PS: I have NO record!
  • What can I do if I feel my 9 year old is not being properly cared for in the other parent's home that I currently share joint custody with? For example, most recently the other parent left our child at a nearby apartment complex pool with another 9 year old completely alone and unsupervised or accompanied by any other adult (the kids were the only ones there) for over an hour while the other parent allegedly walked to a gas station to purchase alcohol. My child also complains that the other parent is using drugs in front of him. Is this considered neglect and what are my options?

STORIES

  • I just helped my mother, age 89, deal with her Medicare HMO. . .
  • He told me that I could actually get all the money I needed by using my home as collateral. . .
  • Age discrimination in the workplace. . .

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