Court Addresses Proof of Abandonment in California Custody Cases

When determining child custody, the California family law courts are obligated to render decisions that are in the child’s best interest. Thus, in some cases, a court must make the difficult decision to terminate a parent’s custodial rights, based on the fact a parent has abandoned the child. A California appellate court recently analyzed what constitutes abandonment, in a case in which the biological mother of two children did not seek or contact the children for over a year while she sought treatment for addiction. If you are in the process of determining custody of a child it is essential to engage an experienced California family law attorney to help you protect your parental rights.

Factual Background of the Case

Reportedly, the mother and the father were married, had two daughters, and then divorced. The mother was granted primary custody and the father was granted visitation. Four years after the divorce, the father began to suspect the mother was using illicit drugs and sought temporary sole custody of the children. The mother admitted to using drugs and stipulated to allow the father to have temporary sole custody while she underwent treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. The mother was in treatment for a total of fourteen months.

It is alleged that during the time the mother was in treatment she did not see the children, and the father reportedly refused her requests to speak to the children or play them her messages. Following the completion of the mother’s treatment, she filed a petition to modify the custody order. In response, the father’s wife, the children’s stepmother, filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights so that she could adopt the children. In the petition, the stepmother alleged the mother abandoned the children. The trial court found that the mother abandoned the children and granted the petition thereby terminating the mother’s rights. The mother appealed.

Proof of Abandonment in Child Custody Cases

Under California law, to find a parent abandoned a child, the child must have been left with another adult, without any communication or support from the parent for at least one year, and the parent must intend to abandon the child. Leaving a child requires a parent’s voluntary relinquishment of the parental role. Thus, a court order granting custody to one parent or coercion to relinquish custody does not constitute leaving.

In the subject case, the court found that the mother did not leave the children but temporarily suspended her duties to seek treatment. Additionally, the court found that the mother did not intend to abandon her daughters. Specifically, the court noted that the mother testified she believed she was allowing the father to exercise full custody while she sought treatment, with the intent of regaining custody after she was sober. As such, the court reversed the trial court order terminating the mother’s parental rights.

Meet with a Seasoned California Child Custody Attorney

The termination of parental rights is a drastic action that should be reserved for extreme circumstances. If you believe your co-parent’s parental rights should be terminated, or your co-parent is attempting to terminate your parental rights it is critical to retain a seasoned California child custody to assist you in seeking a custody arrangement that is in your child’s best interests. Ethan M. Weisinger is a skilled California child custody attorney who will assertively pursue the best possible result under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Weisinger at (925)258-2020 or find us at to schedule a confidential consultation regarding your case.

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