Abandonment has different meanings in contract law, real estate law, and family law. However, child abandonment can be a criminal matter, in which a child’s parent or guardian disregards a child’s safety and welfare by willfully withholding financial, physical, or emotional support. In some states, a parent may also be guilty of abandonment if he or she fails to provide the necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical care for a child.
Leaving a child alone for a lengthy time – long enough so that it could prove to be a substantial risk to the child – will constitute a case of child abandonment. The most common scenario involves busy parents who simply leave a child alone at home. In general, children aged 7 and under should not be left alone, at home, in cars, in playgrounds or elsewhere. Children between 8 and 10 years old should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and generally only during daytime. Those between 11 and 12 years old may be left alone for two to three hours, but only into the early evening hours. Children ages 13 to 15 years old may be left unsupervised but not overnight.
In gauging what level of parental responsibility and supervision is required, parents and guardians must focus keenly on all of the surrounding factors:
- The age of the child
- The health of the child
- The overall maturity of the child
- The disciplinary track record of the child
- How long the parent or guardian will be away
- How many other children will be left at home (and their ages, health, maturity, and disciplinary track records).
- What potentially dangerous circumstances or instrumentalities exist in the home (or in the neighborhood).
- Whether the child is of sufficient age to understand what to do in the event of an emergency.
- Whether the child appreciates that he/she will be alone for a period of time and accepts that fact, and is secure and comfortable with the knowledge.
- Whether there are reliable neighbors willing to check in on the child, and whether the child knows how to reach the neighbors.
- Whether the house is safe in all respects.
Often, when an arrest is made for child abandonment, an incomplete investigation has been made. All of the facts have not been gathered. The police and investigators have not heard the entire story. Many cases are quite complicated, and in such cases, it is important to retain an attorney as early as possible.
If you or someone you know has been implicated in a criminal offense, please contact the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick at 1-866-337-2900 for a free case evaluation.