Abandonment

   I am posting this because there is so much misunderstanding about “abandonment,” and I get so many questions from people who are needlessly terrified to leave dreadful or even dangerous home situations because they might be charged with “abandonment.” If you’re one of those people, I hope this will impress upon you how difficult it is to be guilty of “abandonment” under Louisiana law. Things may be different in other states and countries, but in Louisiana, threats of accusing someone of “abandonment” are usually groundless–toothless, clawless lions. The question is usually something like this: “My home situation is unbearable/dangerous, but I’m afraid to leave because my spouse might charge me with abandonment.
ABANDONMENT
“Abandonment” or desertion under Louisiana law has different definitions for different purposes: 1) Grounds for divorce, 2) Grounds for termination of parental rights, or 3) Grounds for criminal charges.
1) Grounds for Divorce
“Abandonment” as grounds for divorce pertains to divorce only in the case of a covenant marriage. Covenant marriage is a construction of the Louisiana Legislature. It requires special counseling and special documents. People who have one are very aware of it. If you have to ask what that is, you probably don’t have one.“Abandonment” is not grounds for divorce for couples with a standard marriage.
2) Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights
The things described as abandonment below often happen in tragic cases when a parent is physically or mentally ill, involved in crime, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or extremely desperate in some other way. They do not usually apply to normal, caring parents who physically separate, and one parent leaves the child with the other parent, tries to spend time with the child, stays involved with the care, schooling, and extracurricular activities of the child, and helps to financially support the child.
Under Louisiana law, parental rights can be terminated if there has been severe neglect, “abandonment,” or “desertion” of the child–severe enough to cause serious danger or damage to the child to the extent that the state (child protection services) takes custody of the child and asks a court to terminate the rights of the parent who is guilty of this behaviour.Louisiana
Circumstances That Are Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Louisiana
Children’s Code art. 672.1; 1015The grounds for termination of parental rights are:

– Conviction of murder of the child’s other parent
– Unjustified intentional killing of the child’s other parent
– Misconduct of the parent toward any child in the household that constitutes extreme abuse, cruel and inhuman treatment, or grossly negligent behavior below a reasonable standard of human decency
– Conviction, commission, aiding or abetting, attempting, conspiring, or soliciting to commit any of the following:

» Murder or unjustified intentional killing
» Aggravated incest, rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse
» Torture or starvation
» A felony that has resulted in serious bodily injury
» Abuse or neglect that is chronic, life threatening, or results in gravely disabling physical or psychological injury or disfigurement

– Abuse or neglect after the child is returned to the parent’s care when the child had previously been removed for his or her safety (by the state)
– Previous termination of the parent’s parental rights to one or more of the child’s siblings due to neglect or abuse coupled with unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate the parent
– Abandonment of the child by placing him in the physical custody of a nonparent or the department, or by otherwise leaving the child under circumstances demonstrating an intention to permanently avoid parental responsibility by any of the

» For a period of at least 4 months, despite a diligent search, the whereabouts of the child’s parent continue to be unknown.
» As of the time the petition is filed, the parent has failed to provide significant contributions to the child’s care and support for any period of 6 consecutive months.
» As of the time the petition is filed, the parent has failed to maintain significant contact with the child by visiting him or communicating with him for any period of 6 consecutive months.

OR, in the case of a parent who has remarried and the step-parent wants to adopt the ​child.

If​ a parent has refused or failed to comply with a court order regarding support for a period of six months, or if that parent has refused or failed to visit, communicate, or attempt to communicate with the child without just cause for a period of at least six months, then the court can decide that their consent to the adoption is not necessary. If​ ​the parent who wants the adoption to take place is not sure where the child’s parent currently is, the court can appoint a curator ad hoc. A curator ad hoc is an attorney who will try to find the parent so they can be properly served with the adoption

Notice that this says the court “can decide.” Termination of parental rights is never automatic. It must be done by a court, and courts are very reluctant to terminate parental rights. Notice that the “missing” parent is protected by the court appointing someone to try to locate him or her. Courts are familiar with human conflicts and problems and usually give a parent every chance it can before ordering termination.​

3) Criminal Neglect, Abandonment, or Desertion of a Child–and the Consequences

Child Neglect
Louisiana defines child neglect as the failure or refusal of a parent or guardian to provide necessary clothing, food, shelter, care, counseling or treatment for any illness, injury or condition that result in a child’s health and safety being threatened or impaired.

Child Abandonment
Louisiana defines criminal abandonment as leaving a child under 10 years old without adult supervision. Evidence must show the parent did not intend to provide for supervision of the child or intend to return to the child. A parent who commits criminal abandonment can be fined up to $1,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to one year.

Child Desertion
Desertion, according to Louisiana law, is exposing a child under 10 to hazardous conditions from which the child could not reasonably protect himself, either intentionally or through negligence. A first offense of desertion is punishable by a fine of $500 and/or six months imprisonment. A second offense is punishable by a minimum of 30 days imprisonment to a maximum of six months and a fine of $500. This 30-day minimum sentence cannot be suspended or served on probation.

Criminal Neglect of Family
If a parent leaves a minor child without means of support for more than 30 days, this is considered criminal neglect of family. This offense is punishable by up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of $500. If this fine is not paid, the offending party can be placed on criminal probation.

Conclusion:  Avoiding Vulnerability to Charges of Abandonment

– It is very unlikely that you’d be charged with abandonment or desertion if your reason for leaving is the high level of conflict between you and your spouse, or that you are voluntarily separating to “give each other some space” to see if you can work things out, or because you’re contemplating divorce.

– If you have children under the age of 18, each parent should always have contact information of the other parent in case you need to get in touch because of emergency or just to discuss plans and concerns about your children.

– If either parent intends to take the child on a weekend trip or vacation, of if a parent moves, the traveling or moving parent should notify the other parent and always let the other know where the child will be (name and telephone number of hotel, address of new home, address of relatives with whom you’ll be staying, etc.). Each parent should have the other’s current cell phone number and an e-mail address and each should be diligent about answering calls from the other. (You never know when your Ex, whom you would really prefer never to see again, may be trying to contact you because your child has had a serious accident.)

– If you maintain contact with your spouse and children, let them know your whereabouts and how to get in touch with you, continue to provide financially for your children–perhaps continue paying the rent or mortgage note so your children have a place to live, and to provide her money for food and necessities for the child–you have not deserted them.

You would really have to go away and not be heard from for a year or more and fail to provide any financial support to be vulnerable to charges of abandonment. And, you have to intend to leave your family behind, unsupported and wondering where you are. 

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