Can You Legally Disown a Child? (ANSWERED)

If the child is an adult, the answer is probably yes.

If the child is a minor, then the answer is no, probably not.

In the article, you’ll learn about disownment, and the laws which exist that make it difficult to disown a minor child.

Can You Legally Disown a Child? (EXPLAINED)


The contents of this web page are for informational purposes only, and nothing you read is intended to be legal advice. Please review our disclaimer about law/legal-related information on this website before taking action based upon anything you read or see.

What Is Disownment?

Disownment can mean many things, legally and practically.

Some people use the term “disown” to mean that they no longer acknowledge responsibility for the family member, usually a child.

People also informally use the term “disown” when they actually mean “disinherit” (meaning they don’t want the child to take from the parent’s estate after the parent’s death).

We often see parents who want to disown children (minor or adult) who are irresponsible, suffering from substance abuse addictions, or who commit criminal acts.

We also see disownment occur over religious differences, lifestyle choices, and relationships.

These parents seek to absolve themselves of any further financial and emotional responsibility.

We also see adult children (or even minor children) looking to disconnect themselves from parents.

Can An Adult “Disown” An Adult Child?

Sort of.

In most states in the United States, there isn’t a legal process by which a parent can undo a parent child relationship.

You can’t just legally undo the fact that you are the biological parent of a child.

You can’t take your name off their birth certificate (unless there was a mistake of fact or an error).

You can’t take away their name.

Instead, in most cases, people create physical space from the adult child, cut off financial associations, and end communication.

No more phone calls, emails, or in person meetings.

If necessary (and possible), the person doing the disowning can seek legal action to enforce the separation (civil claims of trespass or interference if the child doesn’t stay away), or even civil restraining/protective orders.

Once a child has reach majority, there are very few financial demands an adult child can make upon a parent that the parent has to comply with (though we see a few creeping in, such as health insurance).

Next, to completely sever all ties, what most adults do is create legal documents preventing the child from benefiting from the adult’s incapacity or death in any way (last will and testament, a living trust, power of attorney forms, etc).

Can An Adult “Disown” A Minor Child?

It is very difficult for an parent to end his or her legal and/or financial obligations to a minor child.

Depending on the situation (and whether anyone actually found out about it), a parent who created the physical space and cut off support could face criminal charges of child neglect, desertion, abandonment, or other pretty serious crimes if the child suffers serious physical injury (or even death) as a result.

This is the case even if the adult feels justified in kicking the child out of the home.

Let’s say that a parent was able to physically create that space between himself and the minor child, like perhaps the child left the home and is living elsewhere, and there is no communication.

That adult might also seek to then financially disown the child by creating a will or other estate planning documents to prevent the child from even benefiting from his estate.

Each state in the United States has its own set of laws associated with death planning.

All of them provide the testator (the person planning for his death) great latitude is making decisions about who gets his stuff (as long as his creditors are paid first).

However, almost all of these states have laws in place that provide for the care and support of minor children of the testator, even if his will tries very hard to prevent the child from accessing any of the funds of the estate upon his death.

For example, in Oregon, the representative of a minor child can petition the court for monthly payments of support from the estate, if the estate is solvent enough to support the payments.

The child can also continue to reside in the home previously owned by the decedent for a period of time, even if the directive of the will is to sell the home asap and kick everyone out of it.

Most states prioritize the care and support of minor children, even if the care and support is against the wishes of the parents.

What If Both Parent and Minor Child Want To Be Apart (Mutual Disownment)?

If the parent and minor child are in agreement about ending their relationship, there are some options to provide relief to the parties.

Some parents seek out other qualified and interested adults to adopt the child (and sign over parental rights).

Some states have voluntary surrender options to foster care (though financial obligations would likely continue until the child aged out of foster care or was adopted).

Others designate a guardian and have the child live with that individual until the child reaches majority.

If the child is safe, fed, sheltered, and educated, it is rare for the government to become involved or initiate a criminal action against the parent who has ceded care and control to others of a minor child.

But until the child reaches adulthood, if the legal relationship between the child and the parent is not severed, the parent’s responsibility to the child will continue regardless of what all the parties want.

Wrap Up

Want to learn more about our justice system?

Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

You might also like:

can you legally disown a child