Child Abandonment: How Does It Affect Custody Determinations?

Child Abandonment: How Does It Affect Custody Determinations?
By law, both parents have rights and responsibilities relating to their children.  Parents are required to support their children, including providing adequate food, shelter, and medical services.  Parents also have the right to parent their children.  This is an important right that courts take very seriously.  While child abandonment may affect custody determinations, courts are very proactive in protecting parental rights.

Under the California Family Code, three circumstances may result in a finding of child abandonment, if they are proven by clear and convincing evidence:

  • Both parents left the child without any provision for identification;
  • One or both parents left the child with another person for at least six months without providing any support and without communication; or
  • One parent left the child with the other parent for at least one year without providing any support and without communication.

In the second and third circumstances, the court must find that the parent acted with the intent to abandon the child.  Failing to provide identification of the child, to support the child, or to communicate with the child is considered presumptive evidence of a parent’s intent to abandon the child.  Token efforts of support and communication may be disregarded by the court in making its abandonment determination.

Abandonment may be considered as a factor in determining custody and visitation except in very limited circumstances.  The first exception is for a short absence or relocation during which the parent demonstrates no intent to abandon the child and during which the parent makes reasonable efforts toward regular contact with the child.  The second exception is when a parent is absent or relocates because the other parent actually committed or threatened to commit domestic or family violence.

It should be noted that the effect of abandonment on child custody is separate from the criminal offense of child abandonment under California law.  Before a parent may be found guilty of child neglect or abandonment, criminal charges must be brought and very specific findings must be made in a court of law.

Custody and visitation issues are at the heart of many relationship endings. If child abandonment is a potential issue in your divorce or separation, you need an attorney to advocate for you and your child. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in child custody and child support matters. Call today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.