Child Abandonment in Arizona

Is abandoning a child ever legal?

Arizona divorce attorneys are accustomed to parents fighting over custody of their children as, more often than not, both parents want sole or joint/shared custody. Except in particular circumstances, courts generally favor both parents making the important legal decisions regarding their child and deem shared involvement after divorce to be in the best interest of the child.

In Arizona, custody is called “legal decision-making” and it refers to the power to make important decisions about and on behalf of the child– such as education, healthcare, religious upbringing, activities, and personal care. In addition, where the child will physically reside is known as “parenting time”.

There are several factors related to the well-being of the child that the court considers when deciding which parents will be granted legal decision-making and parenting time. Two factors include the physical and mental health of the child and parents and whether a parent has a history of domestic violence or child abuse. These factors are also used in determining whether a prior custody order should be modified.

Recently, a single mom with custody with a nine-year-old and a toddler was arrested and charged with “two counts of misdemeanor child abuse” after reportedly abandoning the kids “on the side of a road near an elementary school”, allegedly claiming she “was so tired of doing this by myself”. According to authorities, a woman reportedly witnessed the incident, picked up the children and brought them into the school where school officials notified Child Protective Services.

A local TV or radio station claims the woman allegedly said she “thought this was a legal way to abandon the children”. While state laws differ, only newborn infants may legally be abandoned in accordance with all the requirements of the state’s “Safe Haven” statute. The statue provides the child must be 72 hours-old or younger and must be surrendered to any of the following on-duty professionals:

  • a firefighter or emergency medical technician
  • medical stuff at a hospital
  • staff members or volunteers at licensed private child welfare agencies, or private adoption agencies, or churches that have posted a public notice that they are willing to accept a newborn.

Sometimes, when a parent is unwilling, unable, or unfit to care for their child, voluntary or involuntary severance of parental rights may be necessary. Abandonment of the child could lead to such an outcome if the child was found to be in physical, mental, or emotional danger.

If you have questions regarding Arizona legal decision-making or parenting time, or would like to pursue a modification order or severance of parental ties proceedings, the family law experts at Cohen Family Law can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Phoenix, we represent clients throughout Arizona and handle all aspects of family law.