What is Abandonment and Nonsupport?

Abandonment and nonsupport refers to the failure and willful neglect or refusal to support a person who is dependent on them. This is somewhat distinct from crimes like child abuse, which generally involve actions or inaction that subject one’s child to harm. If you think of what laws may exist making you legally obligated to take care of others, you may assume such laws only exist for the protection and care of children. While care of children are the most common subject of abandonment and nonsupport laws across the United States, they are not necessarily the only ones. There is a great deal of variation across the states in terms of who you may be responsible to support, as well as how abandonment or nonsupport is penalized. While often these family issues are dealt with in civil courts, in North Carolina you could face criminal charges for abandonment and nonsupport of a child, spouse, and possibly parent.

If you are facing charges for abandonment or nonsupport, you will need the help of an experienced defense lawyer. These charges may not have the most serious consequences on the surface, but like other crimes involving family members, they can have lifelong repercussions in splitting you from your family.

couple holding hands, with child's hands wrapped around them.

Abandonment and Nonsupport of a Spouse

A person is guilty of this crime if they are support a dependent spouse, and then willfully abandon them without providing that they receive adequate support.

There are several important elements that need to be understood about this law to know what does and does not qualify as the crime:

  • “Dependent spouse” refers to somebody substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance, or is in substantial need of support and maintenance from the other spouse. 
  • The spouse must both abandon and not offer support to be guilty. For example, if the spouse abandons the dependent spouse but still offers support, they have not committed a crime.
  • The act must be willful, meaning that both the abandonment and nonsupport were intentional and without justification or excuse. For example, if the spouse does not have the financial means to support the other, they have not committed a crime. However, if they are able to work and provide but refuse to, they may be guilty.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor upon first offense, and class 1 misdemeanor on any subsequent offense.

Abandonment and Nonsupport of a Child

Supporting one’s child, whether as the mother or father, is a legal obligation and refusal to do so can result in both civil and criminal punishment. Unlike spouses, children under the age of 18 are presumed to be dependents so there is no requirement to proof their dependency on their parent. These laws apply to both biological and legally adopted children, including “illegitimate” biological children conceived outside of legal marriage.

Offering a child up for adoption is a clear exception to this law. The parents will have to voluntarily deliver the infant to the proper authorities less than seven days old with expressed intent to not have the infant returned.

Nonsupport of a Child

In North Carolina, nonsupport and abandonment are separate crimes when it comes to children. A person is guilty of nonsupport of a child when they willfully neglect or refuse to support their child adequately. Adequate support here encompasses providing for food, clothing, a place to live, and medical attention. What is adequate depends on the defendant’s property, earnings, and ability to earn. 

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor upon first offense, and a class 1 misdemeanor for any subsequent offense.

Nonsupport of an Illegitimate Child

North Carolina has a separate statute for nonsupport of illegitimate children, as there are some unique considerations. The state carries the burden of proof to show that the defendant is the parent of the child before requiring that they must offer support. This is different from children conceived in a marriage, because it is assumed that the mother’s husband is the father of the child. The husband could potentially offer evidence to challenge whether he is the father, but only then will the presumption of paternity disappear and the state must prove that he is the father.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.

Abandonment of a Child for Six Months

A person is guilty of this offense if they:

  1. willfully abandon their child, and fail or refuse to provide or adequately support that child for six months, and
  2. attempt to conceal their whereabouts from the child with intent to escape the obligation of support.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class I felony.

Failure to Support a Parent

North Carolina does include a law criminalizing the failure to support a parent, though this differs somewhat from support of a spouse or child. Like with spousal support, the parent must be in a state of need where they cannot support themself, making them a dependent on their child. However, while a spouse enters into a voluntary commitment to support the other spouse, a child does not voluntarily enter into any agreement or take any actions that will require them to support their parents when the child is an adult. These issues have been taken into consideration in writing these laws, so a person is only guilty of this offense if they:

  1. are 18 years of age or older,
  2. have sufficient income after providing for themselves and immediate family, and
  3. without reasonable cause
  4. neglect to support their parent when the parent is sick or unable to work and support themself.

Essentially, this law has to take into consideration all the factors of the other laws (dependency, ability to support, etc) but also whether the child may have a good reason to not support a parent. North Carolina does not define what a “reasonable cause” means, but other states have allowed exceptions for when the parent had abandoned, abused, or mistreated the child at any point to warrant the child refusing to offer them care.

North Carolina does not appear to be enforcing this law as it does for child support, but it does exist on the books as a class 2 misdemeanor for first offense, and a class 1 misdemeanor for any subsequent offense.

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