Ask a Divorce Lawyer: Is it abandonment if I leave my 17-year-old with her older sister but still pay for her needs?

Question: I am in the process of a divorce and my wife left me and my daughter in Tennessee. My daughter will be 18 in March. I was hired for a job out of state and I am due to leave by my daughter’s 18th birthday. She is still in high school. 

Rather than leave the state with me, she wants to stay in Tennessee with her 20-year-old sister. Am I abandoning her if I provide for all of her needs and leave her with her sister for a few months until she turns 18?


Answer: First, I must preface that I do not practice in your jurisdiction; however, Cordell & Cordell has attorneys licensed and located in Tennessee who would be happy to help.

Most states require parents to support their children until the child turns 18 or 19 so long as the child is still in high school.  Therefore, even though she turns 18 in just a few months, your duty to support likely doesn’t end on the day she turns 18.  

I am not quite sure what you are referring to when you ask if you are abandoning your daughter?  

If you are asking whether your wife then has a right to obtain placement of your daughter, the answer is likely yes.  In most states, married parents have equal rights to their children.  Therefore, if your wife decided to pick up your daughter and take her to where she is living, then she would be able to do that.  Therefore, you are going to want to make sure your wife is in agreement with this arrangement prior to making any decisions.  

For the purposes of a criminal action or a child protective services cases for abandonment, if you have provided for your daughter’s care with a responsible adult, I do not see an issue.  The question is whether or not your 20-year-old daughter will be providing the appropriate care and supervision required over her sister when they are so close in age.   
Since you are in the process of a divorce, you should be sure to discuss your situation with an attorney immediately.  Depending on whether there are temporary orders in your case, you may not be able to leave your daughter with her sister.  In addition, this action may affect other aspects of your divorce including support orders. 


Erica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.

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