Virginia has strict child abandonment laws, and defines desertion and abandonment generally as willfully leaving a child in destitute circumstances. If a relative feels that a parent has abandoned a child, that adult may file a petition for guardianship, a petition for adoption, or a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights. In addition to these petitions which remove the child from the abandoning parent, Virginia law provides for criminal prosecution of parents who willfully abandon children.
Desertion and Presumptions
Virginia law governing desertion and nonsupport is defined in Chapter 5 and Chapter 20 of the Virginia Code. Under Section 20-81 any proof offered that the offender has not supported a spouse or the children for a period of 30 days is evidence of intent to abandon. This means that the nonoffending parent does not have to prove abandonment, the burden of proof is on the offending parent.
Termination of Rights
Under Section 16.1-283 Virginia allows for termination of parental rights (TPR) on the grounds of abandonment. Where a TPR is granted, a Virginia court may grant custody to a local social services board, a child placing agency for adoption, or grant guardianship to a relative or interested adult, including grandparents. The offending parent is provided notice and allowed to present herself at a hearing.
Suitability of Placement
In order for a abandoned child to be placed with a relative, the court must be satisfied that the placement with the relative is in the child's best interest, that the relative is crime and drug free, and that the relative can provide a safe and nurturing home for the child.
In addition to civil actions, Virginia treats child abandonment under Section 20-61 as a misdemeanor punishable by up to twelve months in jail, and up to $500 in fines. 20-61 allows the incarceration time to be waived in exchange for a forfeiture of an additional $1000.