Child AbandonmentWhat 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.
https://www.azleg.gov/arstitle/ (Arizona Statutes on State Legislature website)
(Michael J. Decision)
My ex left to Mexico before our daughter was born. Came back only once to see her and has been MIA for almost 2 years now. He is hiding out in Mexico with his new partner to avoid child support and hasn’t even tried to check in on her in all this time but he pays for his other child and possibly checks in on him as well. so it’s just mine he has cut all ties with. Is this grounds for charges? If so, how would I go about that?
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?
where all of the adopted assistant checks go when I ran away for 3 years in a row?
My daughter was sexually abused by her father between the ages of 4-6. She is currently 30. The abuse took place in the state of TX. She is now sharing her story but we are unsure how to address this legally as it took place 24 yrs ago in another state. Please Help
what do u do when ur child comes home says shes been given zanax by parent.no prescription as no md visit.was not allowed to talk w teen privately.said drugs. for sleep and anxiety no problem since home
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.
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?
My 4 year old daughters Father and I have joint custody but since she was 1 year and 6 months he only asks for her every 6-8 months. Is this a form of child neglect? Would asking to sign over his rights as a parent be the next step?
My son is 8 and his father has been in and out of his life we haven't seen or heard from him in about 7 months the longest time he has ignored our son has been a year-and-a-half he will randomly pop in and promise him a lot of things and when it's time to do for him he disappears . . . I married about 3 years ago and my son has asked many times for my husband to adopt him he even asked his Bio dad to please let him be adopted & of course he said no... can I claim abandonment? and how do I start the process?
My Ex is a homeopathic practitioner and refuses to allow our daughter to see a psychologist for a phobia and psoriasis. She has more money than I do and threatens to sue me if I take her to doctors. What can I do?
- Let us know how we are doing! Please take a couple of minutes to fill out our survey.
- Please select your county of residence below.
State Bar of Arizona
Maricopa County Bar
Referral number 602-257-4434
Pima County Bar
Referral number 520-623-4625
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Bankruptcy Court Self Help Center
Certified Legal Document Preparer Program
- Center for Community Dialogue
View full description
- William E. Morris Institute for Justice
View full description
- Arizona Center for Disability Law - Tucson
View full description
- Community Legal Services - Statewide Farmworker Program
View full description
- Arizona Secretary Of State
View full description