In the Christmas classic, Home Alone, eight-year-old Kevin McCallister is made to sleep in the family’s attic after misbehaving. Unfortunately for Kevin, his family has a trip planned to Paris for the holidays and has a flight the next morning–that’s when trouble ensues and Kevin is forgotten! Though Kevin takes this time alone as a wish come true, it quickly goes awry when two robbers are picking off homes in the community.
So why are we sharing this holiday narrative? While it’s unlikely that you or someone you know will forget a child before a holiday excursion, (or lock them in the attic to sleep as punishment) many parents who are in shared custody battles may wonder–at what age does being left home alone turn into child abandonment? The Nashville family law lawyers of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC explain.
What is child abandonment?
When we hear child abandonment, we often think of dropping an infant off on a stranger’s porch or leaving without the child at the store. However, while these are examples of child abandonment in Tennessee, there are actually other forms of abandonment aside from the physical.
People can be found financially abandoning their child, in ways such as not making child support payments. It is not enough to miss one payment–it has to be a continuous issue.
But in the sense of physically leaving a child, when do parents’ right to leave a child home alone become a question of abandonment?
Too young to be home alone?
The question of physical child abandonment becomes not only a legal question but a psychological one, too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the majority of social workers found that a child should be at least 12 years old before being left alone for four or more hours.
If called upon in cases of child neglect, most social workers will use this age and time measure to determine if the child has been neglected, especially if the child is injured or faced danger while left alone.
My ex left our child home alone–do I have a custody case?
In cases of child abandonment, the courts generally don’t have cases as extreme as the McCallister’s holiday fiasco. But when child abandonment does occur, the Tennessee courts will look to terminate a parent’s rights.
In order to petition for the termination of parental rights, the party must prove that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. To prove this, the other parent, grandparent, family member, or guardian must show:
- Evidence of child abuse or neglect;
- Sexual abuse;
- Abandonment by the parent;
- Failure to provide support or maintain contact with the child for at least six months;
- A long history of substance abuse; or
- Incarceration for specific violent crimes.
Remember, simply finding out your ex left your pre-teen home alone for a short period of time is not enough to end the parental relationship. But, if you find out they took a holiday trip to Paris and left your child to his or her own device, you may have a case.
Child Abandonment in Tennessee: Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC
Parents and guardians have a responsibility to the children they care for to be with them, for them, or to place them in the hands of a trusted caregiver when situations arise. But when you find out your child was abandoned by your ex or another family member, you need legal help.
Contact the Nashville family law attorneys of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC today for a consultation.