It is unfortunate when a child spends months or years of their life without hearing from one of their parents. If you are a separated parent who is raising your child and has not had any contact with your former partner in a while, you may be wondering if this constitutes child abandonment. When can you do when your ex-spouse has abandoned your child? And what does this mean for your child and you?
The term “child abandonment” has broad and several meanings in Colorado. Let’s take a look at its legal definitions and implications.
Colorado’s Legal Definitions Of Child Abandonment
Under the state’s law on Domestic Matters (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-13-102), “abandonment” is generally defined as leaving a child without arranging for their care or supervision.
Is child abandonment a crime in Colorado? Yes, abandoning a child is in fact a crime in all states. However, the broad definition of “child abandonment” in CO opens this phrase to various interpretations. In one Denver case, for instance, a grandmother was charged with a misdemeanor after she allegedly left her small granddaughter unsupervised at the Civic Center.
A more detailed definition of abandonment can be found in the Colorado Children’s Code (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-604), which states that a child is abandoned if:
- the parent has surrendered physical custody of the child for six months or more, and during that period, the parent has not shown intention to resume physical custody of the child or has not made legal arrangements to care for the child, OR
- the identity of the child’s parent has been unknown for three months or more, despite reasonable efforts to identify him or her.
This definition from the Children’s Code is used in cases of Termination of Parental Rights (discussed further below).
Does Child Abandonment Affect A Custody Case Or Order?
If your ex-spouse was absent for years but has suddenly showed up to fight for custody of your child, the court will still hear the custody case. However, it is likely that the family court judge would not immediately grant custody rights to a parent who has been absent for a long time. In some cases, the judge may order a gradual change in the parenting plan, or even order reintegration therapy between the returning parent and the child.
What if your ex-spouse already has custody but has actually left the child to your care for a long time? In this case, you may request the court to modify the custody order. Gather evidence to show the court that you have been the sole caretaker of your child and that the other parent has been absent and unreachable despite their custody rights.
In either of these cases, the services of a family law attorney are indispensable. As the sole parent caring for your child, you want to make sure that your ex-spouse does not gain legal advantage over you when they assert their parental rights after years of absence.
Does Child Abandonment Mean Losing Parental Rights?
Abandoning a child, as defined in the Colorado Children’s Code, is valid grounds to have your ex-spouse’s parental rights terminated. This means that your ex-spouse would no longer have any rights and responsibilities regarding your child.
The termination of parental rights (TPR) can be voluntary or involuntary. Some parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights when they feel it is best for their child. But if your ex-spouse is not voluntarily giving up their parenting rights even though they have technically abandoned your child, you may have to petition the court for the involuntary TPR. The court will then decide if they have sufficient evidence to strip that individual of their parental rights.
TPR is necessary if you have remarried and your new spouse wishes to legally adopt your child. Before your new spouse can do so, your former spouse must already have lost their parental rights.
However, the time period of child abandonment changes in this case. The Colorado Supreme Court has decided that a child is available for adoption when they have been abandoned for a full year or more. In other words, even if six months of absence is enough to technically consider it child abandonment under the Children’s Code, it may still not be enough to make the child “available for adoption”.
With the malleable definitions and the complicated network of laws around it, child abandonment is a challenging issue to tackle. If you have questions or concerns, talk to us at Goldman Law for professional advice that is suited for your specific situation.