Child Abandonment

by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico

Recently a woman who was before me for a divorce complained that her husband had abandoned their children. In fact he had. He had not seen them in 27 years, which qualifies as abandonment by anyone's definition. This couple were the parents of three children who are now 39, 35 and 27. The youngest had never even met her father. It was a very unusual case.

Sadly, as the facts of their lives were developed in Court, it came out that this man had been married and divorced before, and he had abandoned a child from that first marriage as well. The second wife knew this. She knew her husband was not paying support for the first child. She knew that child did not visit in her home. She did nothing about it. I wondered why she was upset that he'd done it again, given that past behavior is such a good predictor of future behavior.

It is an unfortunately common pattern to see women who marry men whom they know are indifferent to children of an earlier marriage. Sometimes these subsequent wives even help their husbands avoid paying child support for a first family by putting title to houses and cars in their names alone and leaving their husband's names off bank accounts so child support is harder to collect.

The main reason courts become acquainted with women who enable men to neglect their first families is that their own relationships often fail. They find themselves in court struggling to receive child support for their children. But, by having acquiesced to not providing support for a first family, they have approved that behavior and set the stage for history to repeat itself. Some may feel these mothers are receiving their just desserts, but there are children being hurt in these situations.

In the 27-year-abandonment case, the three adult children came to court, mostly to get a look at their father. The father testified that one reason he had not seen the children was that the mother had interfered with his efforts to do so. He claimed he had called sometimes, and the children were rude to him; so he quit trying. The three children didn't believe or accept his excuses.

Then it came out that one of these adult children had a son of his own. He was divorced from the boy's mother. He hadn't seen the child for several years, and he was behind with child support. He explained that his ex-wife interfered with his efforts to stay in touch with his son, so he'd given up. His mother and sisters knew of the situation and sympathized with him. History was repeating in the next generation.

We can only hope that this son will recognize that just as he did not believe or accept his father's excuses, his own son won't believe or accept his. We can also hope that his mother and sisters will recognize that when they stay silent about his not supporting his child, they are women enabling another father to neglect his children. Only when we recognize patterns are we able to try to stop history from repeating.


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