Child Abandonment Laws In California

Child Abandonment Laws In California

by Jul 2, 2019

In California and most other states, child abandonment can be both a civil and criminal issue. Criminal child abandonment laws in California typically fall under the larger legal umbrella of child abuse, which also includes child neglect.

California state law criminalizes the conduct of a parent who willfully withholds care, food, shelter, medical services, or other remedial care from a child without a lawful excuse. In some cases, emotional abandonment (prolonged periods with little or no physical or emotional contact or support) can be charged as a crime as well.

Child abandonment can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor crime in California, and while the specifics of each case will determine the severity of the charges brought, some common conditions and scenarios may lead to criminal charges being brought.

What Constitutes Child Abandonment?

Child abuse and child abandonment are broad categories that include a variety of behaviors. Generally speaking, any and/or all of the following may lead to prosecution:

  • Leaving a child with another person without provision for the child’s support and without meaningful communication with the child for three months
  • Making only minimal efforts to support and communicate with a child
  • Failing for at least six months to maintain regular visitation with a child
  • Failing to participate in a suitable plan or program designed to reunite a parent or guardian with a child
  • Leaving an infant on a doorstep, in trash cans and dumpsters, or on the side of the road
  • Being absent from home for a period of time that creates a substantial risk of serious harm to a child left in the home
  • Failing to respond to a notice of child protective proceedings
  • Being unwilling to provide care, support, or supervision for a child

When reviewing a case, California courts will consider a parent or guardian’s income and financial resources (among other factors) to determine whether a parent willfully or intentionally withheld care and/or support from their children.

California state law also criminalizes the conduct of a parent who willfully exposes their child to likely physical harm, mental suffering, or death, or who knowingly endangers a child by placing the child in an unsafe situation.

If a parent knows that harm might occur and allows a child to continue in the harmful situation, the parent’s conduct might be enough for a prosecutor to charge the parent with a criminal offense.

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Punishments For Child Abandonment Convictions

The punishments for being convicted of child abandonment in California vary depending on if the crime is charged as a felony or misdemeanor. Misdemeanor child abandonment is typically charged as child neglect rather than full abandonment.

Child Neglect (Misdemeanor): Punishable by up to a year in county jail, a fine, probation, or all three.

Child Abandonment (Felony): Punishable by up to six years in state prison, fines, and/or probation.

Defending Against Child Abandonment Charges

The two most common defenses against charges of child abandonment in California are “Safe Surrender” laws, and the laws protecting a parent’s right to discipline their child.

Safe Surrender laws allow mothers to safely abandon their newborn infants in safe locations – such as churches, hospitals, and fire stations – without fear of being charged with a crime.

Parental discipline laws state that parents of a child may use reasonable force or impose reasonable punishments on their child to control, train, and educate them.

Getting Legal Help

Some cases of child abandonment aren’t always clear and can fall into a gray area of the law. If you’re facing child abandonment charges, you should consult with a criminal defense lawyer who may be able to reduce or lessen the severity of penalties in your case or get it dismissed altogether.

For a free consultation about your child abuse, abandonment, or neglect charges, please contact our office today.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

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