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Child custody


In most states a parent is considered to have abandoned a child if the parent does not make contact with the child and withholds financial support for a period of one or two years. Abandonment may be a basis to terminate a parent’s parental rights. But most states will not terminate a parent’s legal rights and obligations unless there is another adult—often a family member or stepparent—who wants to formally adopt the child.

Abandonment may result in criminal charges if a parent or guardian leaves a child under a certain age (15, for example) in any place and circumstance under which no reasonable adult would do so. For example, leaving a 8 year old child at the shopping mall may result in criminal charges of abandonment.

In Texas, child abandonment is addressed under both family and criminal law. Under the Texas Family Code, abandonment is a ground for terminating parental rights if a parent has either left the child without adequate provision for the child's care, supervision, or support, or has remained away from the child for at least three months without any intent to return, or has failed to support the child for at least six months. Termination of parental rights is a serious matter and generally requires a court proceeding where another party is willing to assume responsibility for the child, such as through adoption. On the criminal side, Texas Penal Code defines abandonment or endangerment of a child as leaving a child younger than 15 in any place with intent to return but without providing reasonable and necessary care for the child, or in circumstances that could expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm. Criminal charges can vary from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the circumstances and whether the conduct was intentional, knowing, reckless, or with criminal negligence.

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