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California Child Neglect and Child Abandonment Laws

Overview of California Child Abandonment and Neglect Law

Child abandonment and neglect laws protect the well-being and safety of children. Each state has its own legal definition for "child abuse," which typically includes neglect and child abandonment. See Child Abuse Background and History to learn more about the emergence of such laws in general.

California state laws criminalize the conduct of a parent who willfully withholds care, food, shelter, medical services, or other remedial care from a child without a lawful excuse. California includes prayer or spiritual treatment by an accredited practitioner of a religious denomination or recognized church as "remedial care" for the purposes of state law. When reviewing a parent's conduct, the state courts must consider the parent's income and financial resources to determine whether the parent willfully or intentionally withheld care or support from a child.

California state laws also seek to protect each child's right to support from both parents. State law permits a prosecutor to pursue a misdemeanor charge if a parent refuses to accept a child into his or her home after being instructed to do so by a child-welfare agency or law-enforcement agency.

In addition, California criminalizes the conduct of a parent who willfully exposes a child to the likelihood of physical harm, mental suffering, or death, or who knowingly endangers a child by placing the child in an unsafe situation. If a parent knows that harm might occur and allows a child to continue in the harmful situation, the parent's conduct might be enough for a prosecutor to charge the parent with a criminal offense.

Defenses to Child Neglect Charges

  • Safe surrender
  • Cultural defense

Penalties and Sentences

The punishments for child neglect, abandonment, or abuse crimes vary depending on the type of criminal offense. For a misdemeanor crime of child abandonment or neglect, the state may seek a fine of up to $2,000, a term of imprisonment lasting up to one year in county jail, or both. For a criminal charge when a parent exposed a child to the likelihood of harm or death, the state might seek a penalty of up to one year in county jail or even up to two, four, or six years in California state prison.

Child abandonment, abuse, or neglect can also result in consequences through California's civil courts. The state or county child-welfare agency may become concerned about the family. A case involving child abandonment and neglect may affect the parental rights of the mother or father charged with the crime.

California Child Neglect and Abandonment Laws: Statute

California Penal Code Sections 270-273.75

Related Resources

Next Steps
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