As a parent, your relationship with your child or children is one of the most precious things you have. But it only takes a single poor decision or a miscommunication for you to jeopardize your rights as a parent.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has a lot of power when it comes to taking steps to sever those rights. DCF only needs to file a “Termination of Parental Rights” (TPR) petition before the court, demonstrating why a parent’s rights should end. Then, you are instantly put on the defensive and must defend your interests. And, once your parental rights are terminated, they cannot be reinstated.
One of the most common grounds for terminating parental rights is abandonment. Accusations of abandonment can take a variety of forms. As a parent, it is vital that you understand your rights and Connecticut law pertaining to abandonment.
What is Child Abandonment in Connecticut?
In Connecticut, child abandonment is an illegal act. Not only can a parent be prosecuted for endangering a child, but they also risk the permanent termination of their parental rights by the courts.
Connecticut law defines abandonment as “a parent’s failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the welfare of the child.” Further, a child has been abandoned if they are “left without provision for reasonable and necessary care or supervision.” Sporadic and occasional attempts to have contact with or provide support to a child are not considered sufficient or reasonable by the courts.
Whether intentional or not, child abandonment can occur in a variety of situations. Some examples of these include:
- Abandoning an infant on a person’s doorstep, in a trash can, or on the side of the road;
- Leaving a child with someone else for three months or longer without communicating with the child or making arrangements for the child’s support;
- Refusing to provide a child with the necessary support, care, and supervision they need;
- Leaving a child alone for a period that increases the risk of harm to them or others;
- Making minimal attempts to communicate and form a relationship with the child; or
- Not responding to notices of local and state child protective hearings.
In Connecticut, there are legal ways that children, including newborns, can be safely relinquished to the state. But these also involve voluntary termination of parental rights.
Things to Consider Before Moving Out of Your Home
Divorce and other domestic matters can be incredibly stressful and emotional. Continuing to live in your home during a turbulent period may not seem like the best idea, but it is important to understand the potential consequences of leaving.
If you have minor children, the last thing you want is to be accused of abandoning them. In some cases, it’s better to have a written temporary custody, visitation, and support agreement in place before you decide to move out and leave your children in the care of your ex.
What Happens If You’ve Been Accused of Child Abandonment?
If DCF believes you have abandoned your child, they can ask the courts to terminate your parental rights. Specifically, DCF would need to file a petition in the probate court, usually where the child resides. If the child is over the age of 12, they must be joined in the petition.
Aside from DCF, the following parties can petition the courts to terminate parental rights in Connecticut:
- The other parent;
- A child’s guardian;
- A relative of a child who has been abandoned by their parent(s); or
- A person caring for a foundling child.
After the petition to terminate parental rights has been filed with the probate court, there must be a hearing within 30 days. The court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child, and parents that are facing a TPR petition also have the right to an attorney.
Before the hearing, there will be a DCF investigation as part of the process. The petition must prove their case, and the court must also find that termination is in the best interests of the child before making a final ruling.
Speak With An Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney
If you are a parent in Connecticut who has been accused of abandonment, your parental rights may be at stake. Don’t wait another minute hoping things will get better on their own. This isn’t likely to happen, and most parents find that the situation only gets worse.
If DCF is involved in your life, you need an experienced attorney on your side that will fiercely advocate for your interests. Attorney Nicole Christie at The Christie Law Firm LLC has extensive knowledge of Connecticut’s relevant statutes and experience working with DCF cases. Contact our Hartford office today at (860) 461-7494 to schedule a free consultation.