What Constitutes Child Abandonment in California?

Understanding Child Abandonment in California

In California, child abandonment is a serious issue that carries significant legal consequences. The state defines child abandonment as the act of willfully forsaking a child without any regard for the child's safety, welfare, or provisions for care. This article seeks to elucidate what constitutes child abandonment under California law and provide examples to clarify the concept.

Legal Definition and Criteria

The California Family Code Section 7822 outlines the legal definition and criteria for child abandonment. According to this section, for a court to find that a child has been abandoned, there must be evidence that:

In addition to these criteria, the court also considers the intent of the parent or guardian. If it is determined that the parent had no intention of returning for the child or did not intend to arrange for someone else's care of the child, this may be grounds for finding child abandonment.

Examples of Child Abandonment

Child abandonment can manifest in various forms. An example might be a parent who leaves an infant at a hospital under California's Safely Surrendered Baby Law but fails to return or make any further contact. Another scenario could involve a parent leaving their young child at home alone for an extended period without proper care or supervision, demonstrating an intentional disregard for their well-being.

Consequences of Child Abandonment

The consequences of abandoning a child in California are severe and can include criminal charges, loss of parental rights, and placement of the child in foster care or adoption. In some cases, if a parent is convicted of felony child abandonment, they may face imprisonment and substantial fines.

Historical References and Notable Cases

Historically, cases of child abandonment have been met with public outrage and legal reforms. One such case occurred in 1909 when Mary Ellen Wilson's plight led to the foundation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Although this case did not occur in California, it highlights the societal and legal shifts regarding children's rights and protections against abandonment and abuse.

Preventing Child Abandonment

To prevent incidents of child abandonment, California offers several safe alternatives for parents who may feel overwhelmed. These include Safe Haven laws that allow parents to surrender an infant safely and anonymously at designated locations without facing prosecution for abandonment, provided the baby has not been abused or neglected.


In conclusion, understanding what constitutes child abandonment in California requires knowledge of specific legal definitions and criteria. It is important for parents and guardians to be aware of their responsibilities and the severe consequences that can result from failing to provide adequate care for a child.