The Volokh Conspiracy

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"The [11-Year-Old] Child 'Has to Get Herself Ready for School and on the Bus with No Supervision by Mother'"

Is that an allegation of abuse?


Under Tennessee law, allegations in family law cases that are "tantamount to alleging dependency and neglect" have to be handled through particular procedures; in Friday's Cox v. Lucas (Tenn. Ct. App.), the question was whether certain allegations by an ex-husband did indeed qualify as that. No, said the court as to the getting ready for school / getting on the school bus allegations:

We are not persuaded that all statements in father's petition are tantamount to allegations of dependency and neglect under the portions of the statutory definition quoted above. For instance, the petition alleged that "Mother is living in conditions that are not healthy for the minor child's upbringing." That allegation was supported by an attached exhibit depicting mother's home in a general state of disarray. According to the petition, "[t]he child is uncomfortable having friends over, due to the living conditions." We cannot say that this constitutes an allegation that the child is "in such condition of want or suffering … as to injure or endanger the morals or health of such child …." …

Other allegations in the petition are more serious. For example, the petition alleged that

[t]he minor child is often alone without any adult supervision, and Mother is unavailable to tend to the minor child's needs. The minor child is left alone at night with Mother returning in the early morning hours. Mother routinely will tell the minor child that she is going to the store and does not return for hours at a time.

The petition also claimed that the child "has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother." According to the website of the Juvenile and Family Courts:

There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their bestjudgment, keeping the child's maturity level and safety issues in mind. Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time.

Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, Juvenile & Family Courts, FAQS, The child in the present case was eleven years old at the time of father's petition. It is probably unfair to say that an eleven-year-old child cannot be left home alone at any time or that such a child cannot be trusted to get on the school bus without supervision. However, father's petition alleged that the child was "often" left home alone, even in the middle of the night. If these allegations do not fit squarely within section (C) of the statutory definition [defining "dependent and neglect" children to include those who are under "improper care"], they are very close.