Child abandonment is a felony crime in Utah. If you are found guilty, you could be sentenced to more than a decade in prison and receive thousands of dollars in criminal fines. But how does Utah define child abandonment in the first place? Utah child abandonment defense attorney Darwin Overson discusses how much time must pass, and other elements of the offense, before a child is considered abandoned under state law.
What Are the Consequences of a Child Abandonment Conviction?
In Utah, child abandonment is a criminal offense related to, but distinct from, child abuse. Both offenses are defined by different sections of the same statute within Utah’s criminal code, Utah Code § 76-5-109.
Though both charges can result in extremely severe consequences – not only in terms of court-ordered penalties, but also in terms of damage to the defendant’s relationships, family life, and professional reputation and career – child abandonment may be considered the more serious crime, because unlike child abuse, which is sometimes prosecuted as a misdemeanor depending on the case, child abandonment is always charged as a felony. Specifically, it is a felony of the third or second degree, which means you can be sentenced to as much as five or even 15 years in prison. You can also be fined up to $5,000 or $10,000, plus additional costs in certain cases.
On top of receiving much harsher penalties, felonies also come with a few additional burdens. For example, if you are a convicted of a felony in Utah, you will become a “restricted person” and lose your right to bear arms. If you are caught purchasing or possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony, you can actually be charged with another felony simply for buying or having the gun. You may also face obstacles when trying to enter certain organizations or occupations. For instance, you may be prohibited from joining the military.
How Much Time Must Pass Before You Are Charged with Child Abandonment in Utah?
There is no question that the repercussions of a felony conviction stemming from child abandonment can be incredibly severe. The more pertinent question, perhaps, is why a parent or legal guardian would be accused of child abandonment in the first place. In short, how much time must pass before a child is considered abandoned? Is it okay to leave a child home alone for a weekend? What about leaving your son or daughter in the car while you run inside to do some shopping?
It’s not always obvious what is and isn’t abandonment, which is part of why it’s so critically important that every defendant have the benefit of a vigorous, experience-driven defense in Utah’s district courts, which handle felony charges like child abandonment. To get some clarity, let’s look at the language used in Utah’s child abandonment statute, Utah Code § 76-5-109. By reviewing the statute, we can break down each element of the offense piece by piece.
To begin with, a “child” is anyone under the age of 18. A parent or legal guardian commits child abandonment when he or she (1) intentionally stops maintaining child custody, (2) “intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child,” and (3) does one of the following:
- “[I]ntentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing” for an unspecified period of time.
- Displays intent to permanently relinquish custody of the child, for an unspecified period of time.
- Intentionally fails to resume custody of the child, and fails to display “genuine” intent to resume custody of the child, for a period of at least 30 days.
As you can see by reading the list above, certain definitions of child abandonment are subject to a hard time limit – in the latter case, 30 days – while other definitions do not reference or describe any particular period of time.
Utah Code § 76-5-109(1)(b)(ii) explicitly states that is not child abandonment to:
- Relinquish a child under safe conditions, which means giving a newborn over to hospital staff. As long as the baby has not been abused or neglected, the person who relinquishes the infant will retain total anonymity. You can read the full description of safe relinquishment, which is fairly extensive, by visiting Utah Code § 62A-4a-802.
- Consent to a court order that terminates parental rights, in cases involving:
- Legal adoptions.
- Petitions to terminate guardianship or parental rights.
A Salt Lake Defense Lawyer Can Help if You Were Accused of Abandoning Your Son or Daughter
Caring parents are accused of child abandonment for all sorts of reasons. For example, a former spouse might allege child abandonment in an attempt to have custody arrangements altered. It is always a devastating time for the defendant, and it’s important that you have aggressive, dedicated support by your side.
Utah child abuse defense attorney Darwin Overson has more than 16 years of experience handling felony and misdemeanor cases. He represents defendants charged with child abuse, child abuse homicide, child abandonment, and other violent crimes and sex crimes against children and minors. Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson serves all of Utah, and is available for jail visits.
Whether the child is an infant, a toddler, or a teenager, child abandonment charges can permanently alter your life for the worse. These are serious allegations, and you need immediate legal help. For a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.