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What is Parental Abandonment?

When a child is born, it is one of the happiest days in a family’s life. A child has two biological parents, yet many of today’s families are not traditional in that sense. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 30% of families are headed by only one parent. There are more than 13 million single-parent households in the country. Most of them, about 11 million families, are made up of single mothers. More and more people are having children out of wedlock and many parents who are married get divorced while their children are still minors. However, both parents are still responsible for taking care of their children, regardless of their relationship with each other.

Parental Responsibilities and Rights

Biological parents have both rights and responsibilities for their children. Parents have a legal obligation to provide for a child’s health and well-being including food, shelter, and medical care. Parents have the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child including such things as education, religion, and medical treatment. Parents also generally have the right to spend time with their child. While a child typically resides primarily with one parent, the other parent has visitation on a regular basis. When a parent abandons a child, he or she not only fails to provide monetary support, but also fails to spend time with the child.

What is Parental Abandonment?

Parental abandonment, more aptly called child abandonment, occurs when a biological parent fails to take responsibility for his or her children. While most child abandonment cases occur when a father fails to provide for a child, it can also occur with a mother. The law defines parental abandonment as the willful forsaking or forgoing of parental duties. Abandonment is a willful act because the parent has the ability to maintain support and contact with the child, but chooses not to. The court can determine that a parent has abandoned a child when he or she fails to provide support and does not visit or attempt to visit with the child.

What can I do About Parental Abandonment?

When a parent abandons a child, it leaves the other parent fully responsible for providing for the child. The parent should take steps to locate the other parent and require him or her to make payments for the child’s needs. In some cases, a parent may move on and find a new partner and might even get married. The stepparent may wish to adopt the child. In order to do so, you must obtain permission from the other biological parent. The biological parent must terminate his or her parental rights in order for a stepparent to legally adopt the child. Where you cannot locate the other parent, the court may make a ruling that terminates his or her parental rights. A biological parent has a specific period of time to object before the order takes effect.

A parent can take legal action to terminate the other parent’s rights if he has abandoned his child. This is often necessary, for example, when you want to have a stepparent legally adopt the child. Parental abandonment can be complex and requires some assistance from an experienced family attorney. To learn more about parental abandonment and to discuss your situation, contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. for a phone consultation.

Published May 26, 2020
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