How Long Does a Father Have to Be Absent to Lose His Rights in California?

California laws are based on the premise that it is good for a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. However, those laws also put the best interests of the child ahead of the parents’ interests. Parents can have their rights terminated if they act in a way that is interpreted as abandoning a child.

How long does a father have to be absent for his conduct to be considered an act of abandonment? At what point does he lose his right to be a parent? It is important to consider what the California statutes say as well as how courts have interpreted the issue.

What is Abandonment in California?

Abandonment can provide grounds to end a parent’s rights under the Family Code. It can also be treated as a criminal offense under the California Penal Code. The definitions differ in each case.

With regard to terminating a father’s parental rights, when there is evidence that a father had intent to abandon a child, Section 7822 of the California Family Code says he can be found to have abandoned the child if:

  • He left the child without identification
  • He left the child with the mother for a year or more without providing resources for the child’s support or without communicating
  • He left the child with someone else for six months or more without providing resources for the child’s support or without communicating

Under the statute, there are several elements to be satisfied to prove abandonment. There must be an intent to abandon, lack of support, and lack of communication. However, the statute also specifies that the intent to abandon can be assumed based on the actions. That means that no one needs to prove a father intended to abandon his child if he left the child under these circumstances. However, it does give the father the opportunity to show that he did not intend to abandon the child.

It is important to note that the laws apply equally to both parents. Actions that cause a father to lose parental rights would also cause a mother to lose parental rights.

Evidence is Key

Whether you are trying to show that a father has abandoned his child or you are a father trying to prove that you had no intent to abandon your child, evidence is crucial. If you can show that you made repeated attempts to send messages or call but you were blocked, that can prove that you lacked the intent to abandon your child. If you mailed a check but it was returned or you gave money to someone to give to the child’s caretaker but the money was never passed on or was used wrongfully, that could also demonstrate that you lacked the intent to abandon.

What Happens When You Lose Parental Rights?

When a father or mother has their parental rights terminated by the court, it means that they no longer can seek custody or visitation with the child. They have no right to spend time with the child or be involved with the child’s life. They have no authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.

Termination of the rights of one or both parents enables a child to be eligible for adoption. For instance, if a mother takes legal steps to have the parental rights of a child’s birth father terminated, then if she remarries, her new husband can adopt the child.

The Court May Not Order Termination

Termination of parental rights generally ends a father’s obligation to pay child support although past due amounts are still owed. Because termination of parental rights puts all the burden on one parent, a court may be reluctant to terminate a father’s rights if there is not someone else (such as a new spouse) ready to adopt the child.

If rights are terminated, it is sometimes possible for them to be reinstated in rare circumstances if the child has not been adopted and reinstatement is clearly in the child’s best interests.

Talk to Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, If You Have Questions About Fathers’ Rights

Termination of a parent’s rights is a serious matter, but when it is necessary to protect a child, a court will act to end a father’s rights if he has been absent without communication or support for too long. If you are trying to preserve your rights or want to terminate rights to proceed with an adoption, talk to the experienced legal team at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC. With over 300 years of collective experience in family law, we know how to protect your rights.


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