Absent Parent Rights in California

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 How Long Does a Father Have to Be Absent to Lose His Rights in California?

In California, grounds to terminate the parental rights of a father or a mother exist in situations in which the parent has not been involved in their child’s life and has failed to provide financial support as they are legally required to do. For example, if a father makes no effort to see the child and does not contribute to support the child financially, they may lose their parental rights.

In these situations, a person or government agency may petition to terminate the absent parent’s rights. If the parent has not had contact with their child and has not provided support for 6 months or more, this establishes grounds to terminate the parent’s rights.

There are other grounds to terminate the rights of a father or mother or both in California. These include the following:

  • Abandonment of a child;
  • Neglect of a child;
  • Exhibiting cruelty towards a child;
  • Parents have disabilities relating to alcohol and/or controlled substances;
  • A parent has engaged in conduct that exhibits moral depravity;
  • The parent has a felony conviction;
  • The parent has been legally adjudged to be developmentally disabled or mentally ill.

In any of these situations, parental rights can be terminated for one or both parents, depending on the facts of the case.

What Parental Rights Do Absent Parents Have?

Generally speaking, every biological parent has the right to have physical custody of their child, either sole, shared, or joint, depending on the circumstances. If the other parent has sole custody per the law of child custody in California, then the other would have the right to regular visitation.

Every biological parent also has the right to participate in important decisions that affect how their child is raised, e.g., whether the child has an affiliation with an organized religion. This is called “legal custody.” This right is included in the rights of non-custodial parents in California.

Under California family law, these parental rights are usually recognized no matter the level of involvement that a parent has in their child’s life.

Other examples of the type of decisions that parents make as part of their right to legal custody include the following:

  • Making decisions about the medical treatment that a child should receive, such as undergoing a specific surgery or receiving a vaccination;
  • Determining where a child should attend school and their daily weekday lifestyle.

A parent retains these rights even if they are absent from a child’s life. However, they create the risk that the other biological parent will be able to petition to terminate the absent parent’s rights if they so desire.

In many cases, an absent parent is often described as a person who has taken some sort of action that makes it appear that they have abandoned their child. For example, an absent parent may not make any effort to see their child throughout the course of a year or only visit them every several months. In addition, they would fail to provide financial support to their child.

Most of the time, an absent parent usually does not live with their child and sometimes even lives in another state or county. This can result in the other biological parent having to raise their child all on their own, typically without any financial support.

What Parental Duties Must a Biological Parent Uphold?

In California, as in all other states, per its family laws and the child’s best interest standard, biological parents are required to fulfill certain duties with respect to their child. The two primary duties of all biological parents are as follows:

  • Duty to provide for the child: This duty refers to providing a child with their basic needs, such as medical care, education, food, shelter, clothing, and so forth. Basically, a biological parent has the duty to support their child financially to the best of their ability;
  • Duty to care for the child: As for the duty to care for a child, this means keeping a child safe from harm, abuse, and neglect and generally caring for their well-being.

An absent parent is usually unable to fulfill these two duties because they are not present in their child’s life. Accordingly, the parent who has custody and is working to fulfill their duties to the child may try to terminate the absent parent’s rights over their child. A local attorney in California would be able to provide additional details.

How Can an Absent Parent’s Legal Rights Be Terminated?

In order to terminate an absent parent’s parental rights, a person, usually the child’s present parent, files for abandonment of the child. They file a petition to terminate the absent parent’s parental rights over their child in their county family court.

The court holds a hearing with a judge. The judge then reviews the evidence submitted, analyzes the facts of the case, and determines whether the absent parent’s legal rights over the child should be terminated.

As mentioned, the other biological parent who is present in the child’s life is usually the one who files a petition in family law court. There are certain situations, however, in which the child’s other parent may be absent as well.

This can happen when they are incapacitated, incarcerated, or deceased. In such a case, another close family member, an appointed legal guardian, or a state agency, such as child welfare services, may request that an absent parent’s rights be terminated.

A parent may voluntarily relinquish their parental rights. This is the easiest and fastest way to complete the process. It requires completing some forms and filing them with a family court. A biological parent sometimes does this when the other parent remarries, and the new spouse would like to adopt the child, but it can also take place in other circumstances.

A petitioner who is filing a request to terminate an absent parent’s parental rights over their child must be able to prove a number of facts. In the majority of cases, the petitioner needs to prove that an absent parent has acted in a manner that is against the child’s best interest.

Some common examples of actions that may be against a child’s best interest include:

  • Failing to prove that they are, in fact, the biological parent of a child (e.g., with a DNA test);
  • Acting in a manner that is aggressive or abusive towards the child;
  • Committing a crime in front of a child;
  • Conviction of a felony;
  • Abusing the other biological and present parent, e.g., through violent acts that qualify as domestic violence or spousal abuse;
  • Acting in a manner that would demonstrate that the absent parent was unfit to raise or care for their child, e.g., being actively addicted to alcohol or a controlled substance;
  • Participating in illegal activities that could get their child hurt;
  • Abandoning the child in some way.

Child abandonment is one of the most cited reasons for filing a petition to terminate an absent parent’s rights over their child. In California, a biological parent must prove that the absent parent has had no contact and has not seen the child for at least 6 months or longer.

It is important to keep in mind that most courts are reluctant to terminate a biological parent’s rights entirely, even if they are mostly absent from a child’s life. A judge may consider such a request but most likely would grant the petition only if there are dire circumstances.

These would include past violent behavior on the part of the absent parent. Or the petitioning parent might show that an absent parent has clearly abandoned their child given the period of time in which they have not visited or otherwise had contact with their child.

It is also important to recognize that a parent whose parental rights have been terminated may be restored at a later date if the child has not been adopted and it is otherwise in their best interest.

In some cases, a judge may be persuaded to grant a petition to terminate an absent parent’s rights when a stepparent or some other close relative is attempting to adopt the child. If such circumstances fail to sway the judgment of the court, a judge may grant the present parent sole custody and the right to set the visitation schedule.

After a court has officially terminated an absent parent’s rights, it means that the parent is not the legal parent of their child under the law. This also means that the absent parent no longer has the right to make any decisions on behalf of the child and loses their right to child custody and/or visitation.

Additionally, a parent whose rights have been terminated is no longer obligated to pay child support. The child no longer has the right to inherit any money or assets from a parent who has lost their parental rights with respect to the child.

How Much Does It Cost to Terminate Parental Rights?

The cost of petitioning to terminate parental rights would probably be minimal in most cases. If the parent whose rights are going to be terminated does not contest the action, then the costs would be minor.

Do I Need a California Attorney to Help with Termination of Parental Rights?

If you want to terminate the rights of the other biological parent of your child, you want to consult a California child custody lawyer. Your lawyer can analyze the facts of your situation and tell you if you have grounds for termination of parental rights. Or, if you have received notice that the other parent of your child or a government agency wants to terminate your rights, you also want to consult a child custody lawyer.

LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to a California child custody lawyer who will be able to protect your rights.

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