Federal law and state law both determine the legal definition of child abandonment in Texas. The Texas Family Code addresses child abandonment in Chapter 161, which discusses the process for an involuntary termination of a parent's relationship with a child. The chapter lists a number of scenarios which may constitute child abandonment under the Family Code.
Federal Law Relevant to Texas Definition
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is a federal law that all U.S. states must consider when defining child abuse and neglect in their own statutes. Each state must, at minimum, provide the same level of protection for children and liability for parents as specified by CAPTA. As long as Texas meets the minimum standards set forth under CAPTA, the state can choose how to address child abuse and neglect, including child abandonment. While some states include child abandonment when defining child neglect, other states, including Texas, choose to define child abandonment separately.
Voluntary Abandonment by a Known Parent
When a known parent leaves a child, certain circumstances listed in Section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code can turn the parent's absence into child abandonment. A parent can commit child abandonment by voluntarily leaving the child alone or with a non-parent adult and explicitly stating that the parent does not plan to return. Additionally, a court may find that child abandonment has occurred when a known parent voluntarily leaves a child alone or with a non-parent adult and stays away for at least three months, without stating an intent to return and without leaving adequate support to pay for the child's care. Child abandonment may also occur when a known parent leaves the child without support or contact for at least six months, even with the other parent.
Abandonment by Unknown Parent
Section 161.001 also discusses child abandonment by a parent whose identity is unknown to the child and the state. When a parent leaves an unidentified child and the state cannot identify the child and the child's parent through reasonable diligence, the state will consider the child as abandoned. In this situation, a Texas court may be able to terminate the parent's relationship to the child even if the parent does not participate in court proceedings.
Lack of Support as Abandonment
When a parent fails to support a child financially, the parent's lack of support may qualify as child abandonment under Section 161.001. Either parent can commit child abandonment by failing to provide support to pay for the child's upbringing, as determined by the parent's financial ability, for at least one year; the party filing the petition to terminate the parent's rights must do so within six months of the one-year period. A father can also commit child abandonment if he knows about the child's mother's pregnancy, fails to provide financial support or assist with her medical care during pregnancy and does not support the child after the child's birth.