Abandonment – Definition

In law, abandonment is the relinquishment, giving up or renunciation of an interest, claim, civil proceedings, appeal, privilege, possession, or right, especially with the intent of never again resuming or reasserting it. Such intentional action may take the form of a discontinuance or a waiver. This broad meaning has a number of applications in different branches of law. In common law jurisdictions, both common law abandonment and statutory abandonment of property may be recognized.

Common law abandonment is “the relinquishment of a right [in property] by the owner thereof without any regard to future possession by himself or any other person, and with the intention to foresake [sic] or desert the right….” or “the voluntary relinquishment of a thing by its owner with the intention of terminating his ownership, and without [the intention of] vesting ownership in any other person; the giving up of a thing absolutely, without reference to any particular person or purpose….”[ By contrast, an example of statutory abandonment (albeit in a common law jurisdiction) is the abandonment by a bankruptcy trustee under 11 U.S.C. § 554.

In Scots law, failure to assert a legal right in a way that implies abandonment of that property is called “taciturnity”, while the term “abandonment” in Scots law refers specifically to a procedure by which a party gives up civil proceedings or an appeal.

Intentional abandonment is also referred to as dereliction, and something voluntarily abandoned by its owner with the intention of not retaking it is a derelict. Someone that holds the property or to whom property rights have been relinquished is an abandonee. An item that has been abandoned is termed an abandum. A res nullius abandoned by its owner, leaving it vacant, belongs to no one.

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