Child Abandonment and the Loss of Parental Rights in Utah
The topic of child abandonment is a difficult one for many parents, most of whom could never imagine giving up their precious children.
In the legal world, however, issues of child abandonment are often brought up as a part of contentious divorce cases and custody battles. We hear from many mothers and fathers who fear their estranged spouse will attempt to strip away their parental rights using allegations of child abandonment as their basis.
Fortunately, it’s not that easy to prove, based on Utah statutes.
How Utah Defines Child Abandonment
Utah Criminal Code §76-5-109 defines child abandonment as intentionally ceasing to maintain physical custody of your child or intentionally failing to ensure that he or she is safely in the physical care or custody of another.
You also may be deemed as having abandoned your child if you fail to provide food, shelter or clothing; if you declare your intention to abandon your child; or if you fail to demonstrate a genuine interest and sincerity in resuming physical custody.
Precedent also exists in case law for proving abandonment if a parent fails to contact or maintain a relationship with their children for more than six months.
Can a Co-Parent Allege Child Abandonment?
After a contentious divorce or custody negotiations, an aggrieved parent may allege child abandonment as a way to threaten their child’s co-parent. This is often done in the hope of modifying custody arrangements, but unfortunately, it occurs more frequently as a means of emotional manipulation.
Rest assured, your former spouse cannot successfully allege abandonment if you are late picking up your child, if you have to cancel an occasional weekend of parenting time or if he or she doesn’t approve of your babysitter.
Even if you are behind in paying child support, you aren’t guilty of abandonment, as long as you maintain a relationship with your son or daughter. Of course, it’s important to stay current with your obligations for many reasons, not the least of which is the risk of being found in contempt of court. But this alone does not constitute abandonment.
Protecting Your Parental Rights in Utah
Unfortunately, anyone can make allegations, against which you must defend yourself.
The best way to protect your rights as a parent is through the court system. A court order establishes custody, visitation and support terms, based on the best interests of your child(ren). Even if your co-parent is awarded sole custody, you maintain parental rights and, typically, visitation rights.
If you and your co-parent find yourself in an escalating dispute regarding any of these terms, you will be best served by taking a proactive stance to resolve the issues quickly.
If you are unable to comply with your custody or visitation obligations, contact a family law attorney immediately for guidance. Once the court issues its order, it is difficult to change the terms without a good reason. However, we can pursue other avenues, including mediation, to restore harmony and prevent your former spouse from alleging abandonment.
In the Salt Lake City area, the Burton Law Firm, P.C. is dedicated to helping parents resolve issues of custody, support and visitation. If you would like to speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys about protecting your parental rights, contact our Ogden, Utah, office today. We will be happy to provide compassionate assistance if you have been accused of child abandonment.