What is Considered Child Abandonment in a Divorce?

What is Considered Child Abandonment in a Divorce?

Divorce isn’t easy, and when you are thinking about it or even in the midst of it, it’s natural that concerns for your children are particularly pressing. One of the worst fears you might torment yourself with is child abandonment in a divorce. What happens down the road when you lose control of what your child is exposed to in your Ex’s house? As your thoughts start whirling, you might go so far as to fear more—you might not even know if your child is fed or cared for. You might not even know if your child is left alone or abandoned as a result of the divorce.

Or, do you fear repercussion, that your spouse will accuse you of being a “Bad Mom”? That he might accuse you of abandoning the children? 

(We know there’s no end to the fears spinning in your head.) 

When you are engulfed in fears, we find one of the best things to do is to go to the brain. Ask your emotions and heart to soften back and push into the brain zone.

Find out what is true or not about your fears. In other words, get educated. Regarding divorce issues, it’s often good to start with what is and is not legally permissible and enforceable. 

In this article, we are going to go there — legally. We will discuss the definition of child abandonment, and whether you risk being accused of it. We will also suggest steps to take to align with the law and to make sure your child is protected.

According to the Law, What is Child Abandonment in a Divorce?

In the context of divorce and family law, it can be considered child abandonment when one partner deserts a family that has a minor child with no intention of returning to the family and the child, when a partner walks away from their financial responsibilities towards the family and doesn’t return, that can create great financial hardships that fall within the realm of abandonment. 

Depending on which state you reside in, child abandonment can also be grounds for a fault-based divorce. This may have an impact on the settlement. 

Check out “What are the No-Fault Divorce States in the US?”

But most importantly, when you abandon your child with no intention of returning you can lose custodial and parental rights and possibly face criminal charges. 

Examples of child abandonment in divorce cases can include …

  1. Making minimal effort to communicate or support your minor child
  2. Being absent from a child’s care long enough to risk harm to the child
  3. Failing to follow a parenting plan regarding visitation with the child

Additionally, as a parent when you fail to provide emotional support for the child like love, interaction with others, and affection, that can be considered emotional child abandonment under welfare and child safety laws. Although, these laws vary from state to state. 

Consider reading, “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.”

Is There Child Abandonment in Your Divorce?

Often in the past, women used to stay at home and care for the children while men brought home the financial support for the family. Clearly, that is not the dynamic of all relationships now. 

Whether it be you or your spouse, if you have abandoned a dependent partner without providing support, and there is a child involved, that person may be charged with a crime. 


Here is another scenario you should be aware of. Imagine you and your spouse have decided to file for divorce and you have a child. Understandably, it is not ideal to be living in the same house together with the divorce going on. You want your spouse out, they want you out. The disagreements and uncertainties that arise can make the house toxic for your child, too, affecting them emotionally, mentally, and physically. It may often make sense for one of you to move out.  

We hope you do not need to read this, but you may …. “41 Things to Remember When Coparenting with a Narcissist.”

But caution, if indeed you are a parent. You will want to make sure you clear it with a lawyer before do because you never want your move to be used against you legally, as in “You abandoned our child.” 

Leaving your joint home does not mean that you are abandoning your child, but you may need to take steps to ensure your child is not neglected (real or perceived). This will include developing a parenting plan that protects both parents’ and your child’s rights in spending time with both of you.


Child abandonment is a serious issue and should not be bandied about as a threat. Depending on the state you live in, state child custody laws will list specific factors that judges will consider when determining child abandonment and the best interest of the child. If it’s happening in your life, or you are desperate to move out of the marital home while the divorce is happening, there are steps you should take to be in alignment with the law and to make sure your rights and your child’s rights are protected. Reach out to a lawyer in your state to discuss your specifics so you better understand your situation, the steps needed to be taken, and most importantly, how to protect your child’s best interest. 


Natasha is a third-year law student in Chicago committed to advocating for women’s empowerment in all areas of law. With a longstanding interest in health law, she aspires to work for hospitals and nonprofits in continuing to advocate for women’s rights. Her goal is to address the historical issues that continue to prevail in our society by addressing the social determinants of health.


Choose not to go it alone.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS now.


*SAS continues to support same-sex and nonbinary marriage. In this article, however, we refer to your spouse as husband/he/him.

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