The subject of child abandonment is a tough one to address. The notion of a parent or caregiver walking away from their child can produce strong emotions. However, the interpretation of child abandonment and good parenting can widely differ between the two parents, especially when their relationships are otherwise tense.
In this post, we’ll talk about what child abandonment means, whether it always results in termination of parental rights, and how these unfortunate situations are handled by the Colorado courts.
What is Child Abandonment?
Some people may use the term "abandonment" to describe a parent who either rarely sees their child or doesn't contribute to their care. This definition makes sense for conversational purposes, but the courts see such matters a bit differently.
According to Colorado law, a parent has abandoned their child if one of the following criteria is met:
- The parent has given up custody for 6 months or longer. During that time, they have made no effort to care for their child or to resume any sort of custody arrangement.
- The parent of a child is unknown and cannot be identified within 3 months. However, reasonable attempts must be made during that time to find the parent.
How to File for Child Abandonment
If a parent or guardian wishes to prove child abandonment, they must be willing to present their case to the court, along with reasonable evidence of abandonment. The accused party will be then be notified and given time to respond to the accusation. They may also submit evidence and gather testimony to prove that they were in contact.
Filing For Parental Abandonment as Father
For fathers, only one of the two abandonment scenarios apply. The mother is, of course, always identified. So, fathers only report abandonment if the child’s mother has failed to make contact or maintain a relationship in many ways.
Filing For Parental Abandonment as Mother
For mothers, both scenarios listed above might apply. In the case that the father cannot be identified, the mother must show that she has attempted to locate and identify him.
Do Courts Treat Mothers and Fathers Differently?
Other than the minor differences listed above, Colorado family courts do not differentiate between abandonment by the mother or abandonment by the father.
What Does Not Count as Child Abandonment
Sometimes, the behavior of the other parent can be frustrating. They regularly miss visitation, fail to make timely child support payments, or simply don’t seem to care about their child’s needs. However, neither of these actions can be considered as abandonment.
Even though lackluster parental behavior may not be abandonment, it could still be sanctionable. The other party can request custody or visitation modification based on such grounds.
How Abandonment Affects Child Custody and Support?
If a child has been abandoned, the parent who is present may file for a modification of custody or full custody. In some cases, parental rights may be terminated. However, even a parent who has committed abandonment can fight this. In that case, you would be filing for involuntary termination of parental rights.
Keep in mind that a termination of parental rights may mean the parent is no longer obligated to pay child support. However, using abandonment as a pretext for escaping child support obligations is usually a bad strategy.
Final Thoughts: Best Interest of The Child
Colorado courts exercise quite a bit of discretion when dealing with abandonment. In one case, abandonment might lead to full termination of all rights and responsibilities. In another, the courts may support a plan to reintegrate a parent back into the life of a child. Sometimes, the court may determine the best course of action is no change at all.
Because the impacts of abandonment on a child can last well into adulthood, it’s wise to seek family counseling. Additionally, to best help a child coping with abandonment, the remaining parent should obtain strong legal representation to advocate for their child in the way they need. If you are considering hiring legal council to advocate for you on an issue of child abandonment or other family law areas in Colorado, don't hesitate to reach out for a free consultation!