Most parents need to spend some time away from their children every once in a while, whether due to personal hardship or other passing circumstances, but when that distance gets a little too far, the legal consequences of child abandonment in Florida come into play. If a parent's conduct fits the definition of abandonment under Florida state law, the authorities may initiate proceedings to terminate the parent's rights – and those proceedings are just as severe as they sound.
Definition of Abandonment in Florida
The 2018 Florida Statutes – the formal written legislative authority in the Sunshine State – define child abandonment in Chapter 39, Section 01 of Title V. The legal language does not set a minimum period of time after which the parent's absence qualifies as abandonment, instead defining abandonment in broader terms 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 mental, emotional or physical needs, may qualify as lack of a substantial and positive parent-child relationship.
"Marginal efforts" such as sporadic visits or phone calls may not be enough to overcome the lack of relationship between the parent and child, at least in the eyes of the state. On the flip side, repeated or extended incarceration of a parent may further support findings of abandonment.
Read More: Abandonment Laws in a Florida Divorce
Legal Abandonment of a Newborn
The Florida Statutes include a separate – and quite different – definition for the legal abandonment of a newborn baby. In Chapter 383, Section 50 of Title XXIX, the state notes that surrendering a newborn as a "child in need of services" is legal, and is not considered traditional abandonment.
When a parent leaves a newborn that's 7 days of age or younger at one of several types of designated locations within the state, such as a fire station, emergency-services facility or hospital, the baby is not deemed abandoned and the parents are not subject to criminal investigation, unless child abuse or neglect is suspected. The hospital instead covers the baby's health needs under state Medicaid eligibility and contacts a local licensed child-placing agency to help find the child an adoptive home.
Consequences of Abandonment
Also in Title V, Chapter 39 of the 2018 Florida Statutes, this time under Section 806, state laws note that abandonment may be grounds for the termination of parental rights. In this case, in addition to the definition of abandonment already laid out in 39.01, a situation in which the "identity or location of the parent or parents is unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent search within 60 days" also qualifies as abandonment.
Guided by the interests of the child, a court hearing determines whether to terminate parental rights based on evidence and testimony. When parents' parental rights are terminated, they lose the right to spend time with the child, the right to make decisions affecting child's welfare, and the right to determine who has access to the child.
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.
The Florida Statutes clearly define what the state considers abandonment in Chapter 39, Section 1 of Title V.
- Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws; Child Welfare Information Gateway; July 2009
- FindLaw: Florida Child Neglect and Child Abandonment Law
- Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature: The 2018 Florida Statutes, Title V, Chapter 39.01
- Ayo & Iken, Attorneys and Advocates: Termination of Parental Rights in Florida
- Ann Marie Giordano Gilden, P.A.: Can Your Parental Rights Be Terminated?
- Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature: The 2018 Florida Statutes: Title XXIX, Chapter 383.50
- Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature: The 2018 Florida Statutes, Title V, Chapter 39, Section 806
- Florida Courts: Differing Burdens of Proof