How Many Days Can Children Be Left Before It Is Neglect?


I would like to know how many days children of 15 years through 18 years can be left alone without a parent present. What are the general rules that apply when two divorced parents split custody, but when one parent is leaving minor children unsupervised? Does this fit into a right of first refusal? What is the procedure for my documenting this and calling it to the court’s attention?




Some states have adopted laws or regulations defining when leaving a child alone is presumed to be child neglect, however, in general these standards apply to children age 12 or younger.  If you are concerned that your children are in danger by being left unsupervised, you should consult with the child services agency in your state.

Your ex leaving your children unsupervised overnight could warrant modification of the custody provisions of your divorce depending upon many factors, such as the maturity of your children and the totality of the circumstances as to the arrangements.  If the children are very responsible, the neighbors are available, and your ex is reachable, your ex may argue that leaving the children alone overnight is not a problem.   However, if you are available and can provide an appropriate home such that the children could be under your supervision instead of being left alone, your custody terms could be modified to provide that the children should come to you instead of being unsupervised.

The right of first refusal concept is usually applied to the non-custodial parent being the preferred caregiver before the children are left with someone else.  When the custodial parent determines to leave the children with a caregiver under specified circumstances, the non-custodial parent is given the option to take the children before other care givers may be used.  In your situation, no one is supervising the children.  If leaving the children unsupervised overnight is inappropriate, then your custody provisions should first be modified to prohibit the practice and then either modify the schedule for the children to be with you when your ex is not home overnight or otherwise require a caregiver and provide for the right of first refusal.  If you determine that your children do not require supervision under the circumstances, you could pursue appropriate modifications to address an option for them to be with you when your ex is not home overnight.

A domestic litigation firm, such as Cordell & Cordell, can provide you a review of the legal standards and custody issues applicable in your state to evaluate how you should proceed to address the situation.

Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.

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