Ideally, a divorce or separation between parents and children would run smoothly for the benefit of the kids. In reality, there are often instances when one parent has abandoned his or her responsibilities, and left their former partner with the sole burden of caring for the children.

When a spouse or partner willfully abandons their children, a judge has the authority to decide if that parent should be allowed to share custody, make decisions for, or even visit with the children. In cases where one parent is absent, Washington law recognizes that the parent who stayed to take care of the kids should be the parent who gets to make the decisions on their behalf.

What is Willful Abandonment?

According to Washington state statutes, abandonment can occur when a parent or guardian physically abandons the children, and leaves the children without food, water, or shelter. More frequently, abandonment is less literal and occurs when a parent either leaves for a long time without contact, or refuses to exercise any of his or her rights, duties, or obligations as a parent.

When one parent accuses the other of abandonment, the parent who stayed will have to show that the other parent acted in such a way that proved that he or she was abandoning the child. For example, a man who moves across the country to take a job but speaks with his children every night and confers with their mother about their upbringing has not abandoned his children even though he is not physically there. In the same way, a mother who walks out on her children and moves down the street, but fails to maintain any contact with them or show any interest in their lives or upbringing may have willfully abandoned them even though she is nearby.

In addition, a parent who is arrested or even incarcerated has not willfully abandoned the children if that parent is attempting to maintain a relationship. However, a pattern of extensive criminal activity or a very lengthy prison sentence may show willful abandonment.

Consequences of Willful Abandonment

When a parent is seeking a divorce from a partner who has willfully abandoned the children, the court will give the parent who stayed more rights to control the children’s lives. If a court finds that a father has abandoned his children, their mother does not need to seek his consent before making decisions which would normally need to be mutual. She would be able to create her own parenting plan and terms (within reason) without the consent of the absent father.

In addition, a parent who has willfully abandoned a child can have his or her visitation rights limited. Even though Washington State has certain guidelines for how much visitation or parenting time each parent should receive, an absent parent’s visitation can be restricted or removed entirely.

Parenting is a tough enough job for two people. When your partner or spouse abandons your children, you should be able to make decisions on behalf of your kids without seeking your absent spouse’s approval.

If you need help with an absent spouse, contact Pacific Northwest Family Law. Our attorneys can help you adjust your parenting plan to fit your family’s needs, and will ensure that you and your children are protected.

If you have questions about your obligations as a custodial parent, set up a consultation with Pacific Northwest Family Law today by calling 509-572-3700.