Child Neglect

Child neglect (failure to provide child care)

Child neglect is a criminal offense under California law. Penal Code section 270 specifies that it is a crime to fail to provide necessary material care to one’s child. Necessary material care includes but is not limited to such necessities as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.

This offense differs from child abuse (273d PC) or child endangerment (273a PC) in that a parent who never or hardly sees their child — or who has no custody rights at all — can be convicted of failure to provide child care, more commonly referred to as child neglect.

Elements of the crime of child neglect

To obtain a successful conviction under 270 PC, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the following four elements:

  1. The defendant was the parent of a child;
  2. The child was under the age of 18 years;
  3. The defendant failed to provide material necessities to said child; AND
  4. The failure was willful and without any lawful excuse.

In addition to biological parenthood, a person may be considered a child’s parent if they:

  • Were married to or cohabitating with a custodial parent on the child’s date of birth.
  • Divorced the custodial parent.
  • Were never married to the custodial parent.

And as previously noted, even if a person has no custody rights and/or little to no contact with the child, they still may be considered a parent for the purposes of this statute.

Without any lawful excuse means that if the parent has the financial means to provide care, they are obligated to do so. If a parent — through no fault of their own — doesn’t earn sufficient income to pay for the child’s necessities, this may be considered a lawful excuse. While a job loss or other disability that prohibits a parent from earning money might excuse a parent from providing care, a parent who chooses to spend on other things or who fails to look for a new job may not be exempt.

Finally, if someone else provides necessities for the child, this does not release the parent from the obligation to care for their child. For example, a mother spends the bulk of her income on loan payments for a luxury car, expensive clothing, and dining out with clients because she believes it is necessary for her job as a real estate agent, leaving her daughter without adequate food and clothing. Even if church members instead provide the child with these necessities, the mother is still guilty under 270 PC, whether the child suffered deprivation or not.

Criminal penalties

270 PC is a wobbler which will be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the circumstances and facts of the case, along with any prior criminal history of the defendant.

A defendant convicted of misdemeanor child neglect can be sentenced to any or all of:

  • Up to one year in county jail.
  • A fine of up to $2,000.
  • Misdemeanor probation.
  • Parenting classes.
  • Counseling.

The offense will be charged as a felony if the defendant has been previously convicted of violating 270 PC or a related statute. A felony conviction is punishable by any or all of:

  • One year in the county jail, or one year and one day in state prison.
  • A fine of up to $2,000.
  • Felony probation.
  • Parenting classes.
  • Counseling.

Legal defenses to charges of child neglect

Anyone accused of child neglect or a related crime should seek representation from a qualified attorney. Only an attorney can provide accurate and reliable legal advice which is appropriate to the unique circumstances of the accused.

Due to the social stigma of failing to care for one’s children and the substantial number of parents who routinely fail to pay, or actively avoid paying child support, child neglect cases may attract zealous prosecution. For this reason, a knowledgeable and skilled private criminal defense attorney is more likely to successfully persuade the judge and/or jury that a wrongfully accused defendant is not guilty, rather than an overworked public defender.

Do you have concerns about allegations of child neglect or a related offense? Contact San Pedro attorney Don Hammond. Mr. Hammond represents clients in San Pedro and the South Bay area of Los Angeles, including Long Beach, Torrance, the Beach Cities, Carson, Gardena, Inglewood, Lomita, Wilmington, and surrounding communities.

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