So, you and your child haven’t heard from the other parent in a few months, or years. When is it considered abandonment, and when should you pursue legal action?
To prove abandonment, you have to show two things:
1. The other parent has either failed to substantially visit OR failed to pay child support in compliance with a court order for a period in excess of four months.
You can show abandonment for failure to pay child support according to a court order. You can also show financial abandonment even if there is no order. The Courts assume you need to do something to be financially responsible for your child.
2. It is in the best interest of the child that the relationship of parent and child be terminated.
This is trickier. If there were proof that the other parent had abused your child or that parent was a danger to your child, you would win. Absent that proof, Judges are reluctant to terminate a parent’s rights. The reason for their reluctance is:
a. No harm no foul, right? If a parent is not having anything to do with the child anyway, then why bother? The reasoning is if the absent parent shows up later, demanding time or rights, the Judge will deal with the issue at that time, rather than now. Judges are busy and often look for ways to deal with issues later, rather than now.
b. Judges are reluctant to make anything “permanent” when it comes to a child, because children’s lives change, their needs change, people change – and there’s always the hope that in the future, the other parent will become a better person and a resource for the child.
c. Judges are reluctant to put the FUTURE entire legal and financial burden for raising a child on only one parent, even if that’s been the history to date. For one thing, if the parent raising the child encounters some extreme financial difficulty, such that they are on public benefits, the State can then go after the absent parent for reimbursement of premiums to TennCare, for payments of welfare benefits, etc. The State is not going to volunteer to pay you during your times of financial need without looking to the person who should have been paying for reimbursement.
Because of the financial risk of having only one parent on the hook to support a child, and the relatively low risk that a parent who has been absent for years can suddenly just pop up and take custody, it is usually very difficult to terminate parental rights based on abandonment UNLESS you have another person, willing to adopt the child, and to take on that responsibility themselves. This happens most often when the responsible parent remarries, and their new husband or wife wants to establish their relationship with the child formally.
So, bottom line, usually, it is not worth your while to pursue “abandonment” charges, unless you have someone ready to step into that person’s shoes and adopt. It’s a big step, and if you find yourself in that situation, give Held Law Firm a call and we’ll act.