Abandonment Laws in Wyoming

By Cindy Chung

Updated July 21, 2017

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Wyoming law includes statutes regarding abandonment of a child by a parent and desertion of a spouse by the other spouse. As child abandonment may result in significant legal consequences, including the loss of parent rights, families should understand the definitions of abandonment, abuse and neglect set forth by the Wyoming Legislature. While spousal abandonment does not serve as a specific ground for divorce, desertion of a spouse can also lead to legal consequences.

Child Abuse and Neglect Laws

Wyoming includes abandonment under its statutory definition of child abuse and neglect. Section 14-3-202 of the Wyoming Code considers abandonment as part of the state's definition of child abuse, which covers both physical and mental harm or imminent danger to the child's well-being. The section also explains that relinquishment of a child as allowed by other code sections does not constitute child abuse. Furthermore, section 14-3-202 includes a definition of child neglect in Wyoming. Child neglect reflects a parent's inability or refusal to provide for the child's basic needs, including food, supervision or medical services.

Consequences of Child Abandonment

Parents should understand the legal consequences of child abandonment, abuse or neglect. Wyoming law identifies child abandonment and neglect as reasons to permanently terminate a parent's rights in state court. Section 14-2-309 of the Wyoming Code includes a full list of circumstances that may result a court-ordered termination of parental rights. For example, leaving a child without financial support or communication from the parent for a period of at least one year, even though the parent may have asked another adult to care for the child, may serve as grounds for termination of the parent's rights.

Safe Haven Law

Wyoming law allows a parent to relinquish rights to a newborn baby without fear of civil or criminal consequences for child abandonment. Known as a "safe haven" law, "Chapter 11 - Safety for a Newborn Child" under "Title 14 - Children" of the Wyoming Code explains the required procedures to relinquish a newborn anonymously. The parent must leave the newborn at one of several types of designated locations allowed by state law: a fire station, hospital, police station or any other shelter location with staff continuously present around the clock and fitting the criteria in the Wyoming Code. If neither parent seeks to regain custody of the baby within three months of leaving the child at a safe haven location, the Wyoming Department of Family Services may start proceedings to permanently terminate both parents' rights to the child.

Spousal Abandonment

Spousal abandonment or desertion is not a specific ground for divorce in Wyoming. The Wyoming Code sets forth grounds for dissolution of marriage in section 20-2-104, which permits divorce based on the ground of irreconcilable differences, and section 20-2-105, which allows divorce after one spouse's commitment to a facility due to incurable insanity for a period of at least two years. However, a spouse who abandons the other spouse may face other legal consequences from section 20-3-101 of the Wyoming Code, through which the state may impose criminal penalties such as a fine or a short term of imprisonment for desertion of a spouse or child.