When parents need to spend time away from their children, whether due to personal difficulties or other temporary circumstances, they should understand the consequences of child abandonment in Florida. If a parent's conduct fits the definition of abandonment under Florida law, the state may initiate proceedings to terminate the parent's rights.
Compared with Child Abuse and Neglect
Every U.S. state defines child abuse and neglect according to its state laws. Some states include abandonment as one aspect of child neglect, which may include conduct such as failure to provide for a child's basic needs or to protect a child's physical or emotional well-being; these states do not use a separate definition for abandonment. Florida, however, does separately define child abandonment rather than include the conduct as child neglect or abuse.
Legal Definition of Abandonment
The Florida Statutes define child abandonment in section 39.01. The section does not set a minimum period of time after which the parent's absence qualifies as abandonment. Instead, the section defines abandonment as the parent's failure to "establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child." The section further explains that lack of regular communication or contact between the parent and child, or failure to carry out parental obligations and address the child's needs, may qualify as lack of a substantial and positive parent-child relationship. Sporadic visits or phone calls may not be enough to overcome the lack of relationship between the parent and child.
Abandonment of Newborn
The Florida Statutes include a separate definition for abandonment of a newborn baby. Under section 383.50, the state assumes abandonment when a parent leaves a baby at one of several types of designated locations within the state, such as a fire station, emergency-services facility or hospital. A doctor must reasonably believe that the baby is younger than seven days old.
Consequences of Abandonment
If a parent's conduct qualifies as abandonment according to the definition in section 39.01 of the Florida Statutes, the parent should understand the potential for legal consequences. Under section 39.806 of the Florida Statutes, abandonment qualifies as one of the grounds for the termination of parental rights. Section 39.806 defines abandonment according to the criteria in section 39.01. Alternatively, section 39.06 allows for termination of parental rights based on abandonment if the state cannot identify or locate the parent after a "diligent search" within a period of 60 days. If Florida's child-welfare agency, a court-appointed guardian ad litem or another party successfully proves abandonment of the child, a Florida court may terminate the parent's rights.
Procedures to Terminate Parental Rights
Florida law seeks to protect the well-being and safety of children, but also considers procedures to protect the rights of parents. In proceedings to terminate parental rights, the Florida court must decide that the case meets the standard of "clear and convincing evidence." Accordingly, if the court decides to grant termination based on child abandonment, the judge must find clear and convincing evidence of abandonment, as defined by Florida statutes, before the judge may terminate the parent's rights.