What’s Considered Parent Abandonment and What’s Not?
Is it only abandonment if you leave your child on the doorstep somewhere with a note pinned to their collar? You might be surprised what else is technically considered parent abandonment.
To be clear this post is about the abandonment of a child, not your elderly parents, but don’t abandon them either. They raised you. They loved you. You wouldn’t be alive without them.
Abandonment in Oklahoma
There are a couple of definitions under Oklahoma law, but because this is focused on adoption, we are going to talk about the definition in our adoption code, specifically 7501-1.3. Under that definition legal parent abandonment is essentially one of three things.
- If you leave the child with someone who’s not a parent, and you’ve left no identification on who that child is or any way to determine who the parents are. This is the most common example seen in the movies like leaving the child on the doorstep of an orphanage or the modern-day equivalent would be a Safe Haven Baby Box. These are spread throughout the country, and I believe we are getting some more here in Oklahoma. They’re usually at fire stations where you leave the child in the box and hit a button to notify someone. This is considered abandonment.
- If you leave the child with a non-parent and through actions, words, or non-actions for that matter, it is clear you have no intention of returning for the child. Probably the clearest example of this would be taking the child to the babysitter’s house or to daycare and then never returning for the child.
- The third thing considered abandonment is less known to the public but is generally the one that applies the most. If the parent fails to maintain a positive and substantial relationship with the child for a period of six consecutive months out of the last 12 months before filing a petition to terminate parental rights.
In relation to adoption, there are two important requirements in that last definition of abandonment.
The first being it must be six consecutive months in a row with no break. The six-month period can be anywhere in the 14-month period prior to filing a petition to terminate parental rights. It can be at the beginning of that 14-month period, in the middle, or at the end. But it has to be six consecutive months to be considered abandonment.
The second thing is defining what is considered a “substantial and positive relationship” for that to happen. There has to be frequent and continued contact with the minor child, and you have to exercise parental responsibility and parental rights. A phone call or a letter once every six months, or even just showing up on their birthday with a present will not count as a “substantial and positive relationship”.
It is important to note that giving the baby up for adoption or giving a relative guardianship of the minor child is not considered abandonment under this specific statute. Those are positive and assertive actions by the parent to make sure that that child is taken care of. So for that reason, it’s not considered abandonment.
Impacts of Parent Abandonment
Now that we know what abandonment is, what does that mean for you? As the stepparent who wants to adopt your stepchild, it means that if you can show the court the biological parent has abandoned the child under the definition above, you can get the adoption of your stepchild approved by the court. Even if that biological parent does not want to give their consent. There are a couple of big caveats to this.
- Technical abandonment only applies to parents who have acknowledged paternity or paternity has been legally established. So if the abandonment is by the biological mother, that’s easy. No question there. If it’s by the father, they either must have signed an acknowledgment of paternity at the time of the birth of the child or through other actions of the court have legally been determined to be the father. If they haven’t, there is still a long list of scenarios under Oklahoma law in which the adoption can be approved even without their consent. But this wouldn’t technically be abandonment.
For example, in the most common scenario, you can still prove that the lack of a substantial relationship with the child is grounds for the adoption. However, if it’s not abandonment, you must show it has been 12 consecutive months out of the last 14, rather than six.
There are multiple other scenarios in which you would not need their consent for your adoption to be approved.
- The other big caveat is that the court has to find it’s in the best interest of the child to approve this stepparent adoption. That is completely within the judge’s discretion. So the judge for any reason can decide it may not be in the child’s best interest and not approve the adoption. This is the same with all adoptions.