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What Is an absent Parent?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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"Absent parent" is a legal term that may define the way some parents relate or fail to relate to their children. These parents are not the custodial parent, or the parent with whom a child lives. Instead, they are non-custodial parents who do not reside with the child.

There are a couple of ways the term absent parent can be used. Once child custody arrangements are determined, the parent who does not live with the child, and who usually only has visiting rights without sharing custody, is the absent parent. This parent can still be involved in a child’s life and pay child support, but he or she doesn’t live with the child, so he or she is absent or missing from the child’s daily life.

Another form of absent parent is one who is completely missing from the child’s life, fully abandoning the child and having nothing to do with him or her. This includes acts such as refusing to make child support payments or refusal to participate in the child's life.

If an absent parent does not provide child support, and in the absence of a mutual and voluntary arrangement between the parents, an absent parent may owe back child support at a later time. The absent parent may be responsible for some support payments if the parent and child have depended on social services like welfare. To avoid this, parents have to go to court and sever the parental rights of the uninvolved parent. This same requirement may exist if at a later point, the custodial parent remarries and has a spouse who would like to adopt the child of the absent parent.

When an absent parent needs to pay missed child support payments, courts can seize assets to help make these payments or garnish paychecks. When parents purposely avoid fulfilling their responsibility to their children, custodial parents can use investigators or a variety of services to locate them. Once found, absent parents usually will need to appear in court to discuss their failure to pay adequate child support and are generally given information on new payments and how they will be deducted.

Frequently Asked Questions

In legal terms, what is an absent parent?

The term "absent parent" can be used in several contexts. Once child custody arrangements are established, the absent parent is the parent who does not live with the child and usually has only visitation rights without shared custody. This parent can still be involved in the life of a kid and pay child support, but because he or she does not live with the child, he or she is absent or missing from the child's daily life.  It can also refer to a parent who fails to meet their legal obligations and responsibilities to their child. This includes neglecting to provide financial assistance, failing to maintain regular contact, or failing to comply with any court-ordered visitation or custody arrangements. In some situations, an absent parent's parental rights may have been terminated due to neglect or abuse.

What are the legal ramifications of being an absent parent?

Being an absent parent can result in court-ordered child support payments, the loss of custody or visitation rights, and criminal prosecution for neglect or abuse. In rare situations, an absent parent may be obliged to participate in counseling or other programs in order to reestablish contact with their child. However, the legal implications of being an absent parent vary depending on the circumstances of each case.

What options do custodial parents have when dealing with an absent parent?

If you are a custodial parent dealing with an absent parent, you have numerous legal remedies available to you. They may include demanding child support, requesting custody adjustments, or asking the court to enforce visitation rights. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain legal counsel from a family law specialist.

Can an absent parent reclaim parental rights?

In rare situations, an absent parent's rights may be restored by establishing that they can presently provide a stable and supportive home for their child. This may entail obtaining counseling or other professional assistance to address any difficulties that contributed to their absence. In other situations, the court may decide that it is not in the best interests of the child to do so.

What legal options do children with absent parents have?

Children with absent parents have access to a variety of legal options, including child support enforcement agencies, legal aid organizations, and family law professionals. These tools can assist children and caregivers in navigating the legal system, obtaining financial support, and establishing or changing custody or visitation arrangements.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon94634 — On Jul 09, 2010

I recently learned my husband, a Florida resident, had a Florida judgment in 1985 awarding $27,000 to the Ocean County Social Services, NJ, in back payments for welfare payments to his ex-wife and two small children. I checked and this award is now worth $68,000.

Ocean County is "not interested" in pursuing this. Can you believe that? My husband makes more than $50,000 a year and we have no bills so he can easily afford to pay but the government can't be bothered.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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