In California, child abandonment is defined as leaving a child without adequate supervision or care for an unreasonable time without arranging the child's proper care. It is a crime to abandon a child under 18, which can result in criminal charges being filed against the person responsible for the abandonment. The Koenig Law Office team will assist you if you face child abandonment charges in Bakersfield.

Difference Between Child Abandonment, Child Desertion, and Child Neglect

In California, child abandonment and child neglect are considered forms of child abuse or neglect and can result in criminal charges being filed against the person responsible for the conduct. However, some key differences between these two terms are necessary to understand.

Child abandonment is leaving a child without adequate supervision or care for an unreasonable period without arranging proper care. This can include physically leaving a child alone without proper supervision or care, failing to provide necessary medical care or other necessities for the child's well-being, or failing to maintain regular contact with the child or provide for the child's needs. Child abandonment can also occur when a parent or guardian fails to assume financial responsibility for the child or fails to provide for the child's education.

On the other hand, child neglect refers to the failure to provide necessary care, supervision, or support for a child's physical, emotional, or social needs. This can include failing to provide essential medical care, food, clothing, or shelter for the child or failing to protect the child from abuse or neglect.

Both child abandonment and child neglect can have profound consequences for the child, including physical harm or emotional trauma. If you are concerned about a child at risk of abandonment or neglect, report your concerns to the appropriate authorities, like the police or child protective services.

What Constitutes Child Abandonment

The term child abandonment encompasses a variety of behaviors. The examples vary depending on the circumstances.

  • Making minimal efforts to communicate or support the minor — It is the responsibility of parents or guardians to provide for their children's physical, emotional, and social needs, and failing to do so can have grave consequences for the child.

Examples of making minimal efforts to communicate or support a minor include:

  1. Failing to maintain regular contact with the child, like through phone calls, emails, or in-person visits
  2. Failing to provide necessary financial support, like money for food, clothing, or other necessities
  3. Failing to provide essential medical care or additional support for the child's physical needs
  4. Failing to provide emotional support or guidance to the child
  • Being unwilling to support or provide care, supervision, or support for the child
  • Leaving the minor with another individual without provision for the child’s support
  • Leaving an infant in dumpsters, trashcans, on a doorstep, or the side of the road
  • Failing to honor regular visitation with the minor for at least six months
  • Failing to participate in a suitable program or plan that aims at reuniting guardians or parents with the child — If a child has been removed from the care of their parents or guardians due to concerns about the child's well-being, a suitable program or plan could be put in place to help the parents or guardians address any issues and reunite with their child. This could include counseling, therapy, or other support services.

If a parent or guardian fails to participate in such a program or plan, it could be seen as evidence that they are not taking the necessary steps to address any issues that are preventing them from being able to care for their child. This can be considered a form of child abandonment or neglect, resulting in the state filing criminal charges against the person responsible for the conduct.

  • Being absent from the home the child leaves in for a period significant enough to cause substantial risk to the minor — The length of time that must pass before a child abandonment case is considered to involve a "period long enough to cause substantial risk" to a child can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Generally, the longer a child is left without adequate supervision or care, the more likely the child will be at risk of harm.

Factors courts consider in determining whether a child has been abandoned for a "period long enough to cause substantial risk" include:

  1. The child's age — Younger children, could be more vulnerable and require more frequent care and supervision than older children.
  1. The child's physical and emotional needs — Children with special needs or medical conditions could require more frequent care and attention than healthy children.
  1. The environment in which the defendant let the child — A child left alone in a dangerous or unsafe environment, like a house with no electricity or running water, could be at greater risk of harm than a child left in a safe and secure environment.

Ultimately, the determination of whether a child has been abandoned for a "period long enough to cause substantial risk" will be made on a case-by-case basis, considering all relevant circumstances.

  • Failing to respond to a child’s protective proceedings — Failing to respond to a child's protective proceedings can be considered a form of child abandonment or neglect. Protective proceedings are legal proceedings initiated when there is reasonable belief a child is at risk of harm, abuse, or neglect. These proceedings are designed to protect the child and meet their needs.

If a parent or guardian fails to respond to a child's protective proceedings, it could be seen as evidence they are not taking the necessary steps to address any issues preventing them from being able to care for their child. This can be considered a form of child abandonment or neglect, resulting in the state filing criminal charges against the person responsible for the conduct.

Failing to respond to a child's protective proceedings can also have grave consequences for the child. If a parent or guardian fails to participate in the proceedings, the court could make decisions about the child's care and custody without the input of the parent or guardian. This could lead to the child being placed in foster care or with another family member or guardian.

Prosecution of Child Abandonment Under California Law

Child abandonment is a criminal offense punishable under several different laws. The law under which the District Attorney will pursue charges depends on the case's specific circumstances and the conduct's severity.

Prosecutors will likely seek convictions under the following laws:

  • Penal Code 270 — The child neglect law
  • Penal Code 272 — This statute makes it a crime to contribute to the delinquency of a minor, and
  • Penal Code 273a — The child endangerment law

Let us look at each statute in detail.

  1. Child Neglect

You will face prosecution under Penal Code 270 when you, the child’s parent, willfully and without a legal excuse, fail to provide necessities to the child, which include clothing, shelter, food, and medicine.

Prosecutors must prove the following elements of the crime for the courts to find you guilty:

  • You are the minor’s parent — For purposes of the law, a minor is an individual under 18 years of age. The statute also protects unborn children. Thus, according to the law, the parent is obligated to provide the necessities for the unborn child.

Additionally, PC 270’s definition of a parent includes legal, adoptive, and foster care parents or any individual who presents themselves as the child’s parent. Parents do not include any to whom the court has denied parental rights or obligations to minors.

  • You failed to provide the child with necessities — Necessities include clothing, shelter, food, medical care, and remedial care, for example, assistance or guidance from an official religion.
  • Your failure to provide was willful, and you did not have a legal excuse to act as you did — A parent has a lawful justification not to provide for the child if in the following circumstances.
  1. He/she failed through no fault of his/her own
  2. He/she is unable to earn adequate funds to support the child
  3. He/she lacks assets or income to support the minor’s needs.

It is not a lawful excuse if a parent cannot provide for the child’s needs because he/she chose to spend his/her finances on materials or avenues other than taking care of the child. Further, failing to seek out employment diligently is also not a lawful excuse. The law presumes there is no legal excuse. Therefore, you bear the burden of proving otherwise.

Penalties for Child Neglect

Child neglect is a misdemeanor violation. Convictions result in administrative and criminal penalties, including:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year,
  • A fine of up to $2,000, or both.

On the rare occasion that child neglect is charged as a felony, you will face the following penalties:

  • Up to one year in jail, or a year and a day in prison,
  • A maximum fine of $2,000 or both.

You will likely face felony charges if you are the child’s father, as determined by a judge in a paternity suit.

  1. Contributing to a Child’s Delinquency

You will face prosecution for enabling or causing a child to engage in delinquent or illegal behavior, become a habitual truant, or become dependent on California’s juvenile court system. These actions are a violation of Penal Code 272.

The courts will convict if the prosecution proves the following elements of the crime:

  • You failed to perform a duty or committed an act — Legal obligations include protection, supervision, reasonable care, and control over the child.
  • You contributed to or caused a child to become a habitual truant, delinquent, or dependent on the juvenile court.

You must have acted with general criminal intent or with criminal negligence. General criminal intent refers to intentionally committing a prohibited act or failing to act as required. On the other hand, you act with criminal negligence when you act in a manner likely to cause a significant risk of great bodily injury or death.

A child is a habitual truant if he/she:

  • Violates an age-based curfew
  • Has four or more unexcused absences from school within a school year
  • Persistently or habitually failed to obey reasonable orders of his/her parent or guardian

A minor becomes dependent on the juvenile court system if he/she:

  • Is a victim of child abuse, sexual abuse, or child neglect
  • Suffers severe emotional damage resulting from neglect or mistreatment by a guardian or parent
  • Left without a means of support
  • Has a sibling who is a victim of neglect or abuse, or
  • Is subjected to an act of cruelty by a member of his/her household

Penalties for Contributing to a Child’s Delinquency

A PC 272 violation is a misdemeanor punishable by the following:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year
  • A fine of up to $2,500 or both
  • Misdemeanor probation
  1. Child Endangerment

Willfully exposing a child to unjustifiable suffering, danger, or pain violates Penal Code 273a. Prosecutors must prove the following:

  • You deliberately inflicted pain or mental suffering on a minor
  • You intentionally permitted or caused a child to suffer unjustifiable mental anguish or pain
  • You allowed or caused the child’s health to suffer when the child was in your custody
  • You permitted or willfully caused the child to be in a situation that risked the minor’s health — the risk considered is death or great bodily injury. It is not necessarily that your actions caused the minor's death or the child to have suffered great physical harm. It is only necessary that it was a likely outcome.

Penalties for Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is a wobbler. You would face misdemeanor penalties if your actions posed no risk of death or great bodily injury to the child. A conviction results in the following sentences:

  • Six months in jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000, or both.
  • Four-year misdemeanor probation instead of jail time

If you exposed the child to a significant risk to their health, you would face felony charges. Convictions result in the following penalties:

  • Two, four, or six years in prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both
  • Four-year felony probation instead of prison time

Defenses You Can Assert in a Child Abandonment Case

If you are facing charges of child abandonment, there are several defenses that you could assert, depending on the specific facts of your case. Some potential defenses to child abandonment include:

  1. Lack of Intent

The defense of lack of intent is available if the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant intentionally abandoned their child. To be convicted of child abandonment, the prosecution must prove that you intended to abandon your child if you show that you did not have this intent.

There are several ways you could show that you did not intend to abandon your child. For example, you could argue you left your child in the care of someone else or that you made arrangements for your child to be cared for while you were away. To assert the defense of lack of intent, you must present evidence to support your claim that you did not intend to abandon your child.

It is important to note that the defense of lack of intent is not available in all cases, and the specific defense available to you depends on the case's particular facts.

  1. No Willful Act

The defense of no willful act is available if the prosecution cannot prove that you acted willfully in abandoning your child. To be convicted of child abandonment, the prosecution must prove that you acted willfully in abandoning your child. If you show that you did not act willfully, you could avoid a conviction.

There are several ways you can demonstrate that you did not act willfully in abandoning your child. For example, you could argue that you left your child in the care of someone else or that they made arrangements for your child to be cared for while you were away. To assert the defense of no willful act, you need to present evidence to support your claim that you did not act willfully in abandoning your child.

  1. False Accusation

The defense of false accusation could be available if you show that a person falsely accused you of abandoning your child. You could avoid a conviction by providing evidence that you did not leave your child.

You could show that an individual falsely accused you of abandoning your child. For example, you could provide evidence that undermines the credibility of your accuser, like a history of making false accusations or a motive for making a false accusation.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you are facing child abandonment charges, it is necessary to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties that you could face, and the best defenses to assert in your case. At Koenig Law Office, we help individuals charged with child abandonment in Bakersfield. Contact our team at 661-793-7222 to schedule a case review.