Having children means pledging to provide the utmost care and support to them. Unfortunately, not all parents uphold their duties and may decide to neglect their responsibilities and wrongfully abandon their children willingly. Texas law takes child neglect and abandonment seriously, and harsh criminal penalties may be applied. If your ex is neglecting your child, or if you’ve been accused of child abandonment, here is an in-depth overview of child abandonment and how a defense attorney can help you navigate through this difficult process.
What is Child Abandonment?
Child abandonment is when a parent willingly withholds emotional, physical, and financial support from a minor child. For example, the parent might have failed to fulfill their parental responsibilities and chosen not to have contact with their child. For legal action to take place, the Texas child neglect law states that the parent must have evidence that the other parent has failed to meet their responsibility. Also, substantial risk or observable and material impairment must occur for the civil statute to apply.
Understanding Child Abandonment or Endangerment Laws
Texas laws state that parents and guardians are responsible for providing reasonable and necessary care to their children, including food, clothing, medical care, supervision, and shelter. If they can’t provide those items to their children, they should arrange for someone else to provide those necessities in their place.
Under the Texas Penal Code, signs of child neglect include:
- Torn or dirty clothes
- Frequent absence from school
- Lack of personal hygiene or malnourishment
- Signs of mental or physical impairment
- Frequent need for dental or medical care
- Long periods where the child is alone
Common actions that lead to child abandonment in Texas are:
- Leaving a child with a non-guardian or parent without meaningful communication or provision for the child’s support for three months
- Making minimal efforts to communicate with and support a child
- Being unwilling to provide child support, supervision, or care
- Failing to respond to any notice of child protective proceedings
- Failing to participate in a suitable program designed to reunite the guardian or parent with the child
- Failing for six months or longer to maintain a regular visitation schedule for the child
- Being absent from home creates an unreasonable risk of harm to the child.
- Leaving an infant in dangerous areas that could pose physical or mental impairment, such as alleyways, dumpsters, trashcans, and on the side of the road
Anyone who has reason to believe that the other parent is abandoning or endangering their child should make a report with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
What are the Consequences?
A parent or guardian convicted of child abandonment can face any of these penalties as defined by the Texas Penal Code.
State Jail Felony
A parent charged with simple abandonment can face a state jail felony conviction if they intentionally abandon their child with the intent to return to them, which is punishable by a prison sentence from 180 days to two years or a fine of up to $10,000.
Third Degree Felony
A parent who has abandoned their child without the intent to return for their child can be punished with a prison sentence of two to ten years or a fine of up to $10,000.
Second Degree Felony
When a parent leaves their child in a situation where they are likely to suffer from physical or mental impairment, bodily injury, the imminent danger of death, they can be convicted of a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony conviction can result in a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years or a fine of $10,000.
Mandatory Reporting of Child Endangerment
Texas abandonment laws require that anyone with knowledge of a parent abandoning or endangering their child must make a report to the authorities. Failing to make the report of child endangerment is considered a Class A misdemeanor. This can result in consequences of a fine of up to $4,000 or jail time of up to one year. Also, child care professionals have the enhanced duty to report all child endangerment and abandonment cases.
Texas Safe Haven Laws
In rare cases, parents may sometimes leave their newborn baby to certain infant care providers. Whether the parent is incapable of raising the child, in denial of the child, or any other reason, Texas has safe haven laws to protect the parent from child abandonment penalties.
Under Texas safe haven laws, a designated infant care provider can take possession of a newborn baby who is no older than 60 days old. No court order is needed if the parent delivers the child to the provider without any intent to return. Generally, examples of designated emergency infant care providers are hospitals or child-placing agencies.
Terminating Parental Rights
Under the Texas family code, the rights of a parent can be terminated involuntarily if the following is demonstrated in court.
- Removing their parental right is in the best interest of the minor child; and
- The parent had left the child in possession of another person or alone without providing adequate support of the child while remaining away for at least six months
The termination of parental rights is considered a drastic measure, and there must be good cause for a court to remove a child’s parent from their life. Texas law requires a legal hearing where the judge finds that it would be in the child’s best interest for the parent’s rights to be terminated.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Abandonment
Here are common questions parents ask about what is considered abandonment.
How old does my Texas child need to be to stay home alone?
Texas law doesn’t state the age that is old enough for a child to stay at home. However, abandoning a child without support typically applies to any child under the age of 15. As a parent, having adequate supervision is important to keeping kids safe. A parent or guardian is accountable for necessary and reasonable care for their children, and failure to do so is a form of Texas child neglect, which can lead to criminal negligence. Some questions you may consider when deciding how closely to supervise your child are:
- How emotionally mature and capable is my child?
- Does my child have a physical, mental, or medical disability?
- How long and often will they be left alone?
- Is there a substantial risk or imminent danger in the neighborhood or area?
- Can they contact you or a designated responsible adult?
- Does your child know where you are?
Can I leave my Texas child alone in the car for a short period of time?
No, it’s never okay to leave a child in a motor vehicle for any length of time. If a child is trapped inside the vehicle, they can suffer from a heat stroke or heat exhaustion within a short period of time. This action can lead to bodily injury and is a clear form of child endangerment. Heat strokes can cause seizures, shocks, heart attacks along with kidney, liver, or brain damage. Of course, this is grounds for Texas law to remove parental rights as well.
Leaving your child unattended in a vehicle is punishable under the Texas Penal Code. A person commits an offense when leaving a child in the car for longer than five minutes.
It’s considered a Class C misdemeanor when a child under the age of seven is left alone in the car and not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years or older.
Find a Child Abandonment Attorney
Many cases of child abandonment aren’t always clear and could fall into a gray area of Texas law. Whether you’re reporting a parent for abandoning a child or charged with child abandonment, it’s imperative to consult with a defense attorney. If you’ve been wrongfully accused, a lawyer can help to disprove or reduce those abandonment charges.
For example, an attorney could use testimony and evidence to assert that the defendant didn’t intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly leave a child in a place that could cause harm to them. If this defense is successful, the requirements for child abandonment laws may not be met.
Take the first step and contact an experienced attorney in your area. We provide a confidential consultation to discuss your legal options and have the experience needed to protect your rights.