Parental rights generally refer to a parent’s right to make necessary decisions regarding the welfare of their child, such as healthcare, education, and religious affiliation. These rights may also extend to visitation and custody, when separation or divorce becomes an issue. In addition to important decision-making, parental rights include acting on behalf of the best interest of the child.

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Who Is Considered a Parent?

A parent is a biological or adoptive parent that is considered to be the legal parent of a child. Grandparents, or other family members are not given parental rights, unless the child has been legally adopted, or the court has appointed them as the legal guardian. Legal guardians often have similar rights and responsibilities of parents, which are granted by the court without the termination of a parent’s parental rights, but are not considered a parent. In some instances, non-biological parents have more parental rights than biological parents, particularly when the welfare and safety of the child is at risk.

Do You Have Parental Rights if You Are a Step-Parent?

A step-parent may likely only retain parental rights, if they legally adopted the child. Without taking the necessary steps of adoption, step-parents often do not have any legal rights toward the child. Laws vary from state to state regarding parental rights as a step-parent, specifically, visitation rights. Therefore, speaking with an attorney in your area who is familiar with your state laws may be beneficial.

Can You End Parental Rights?

Yes, parental rights may be terminated. In an involuntary termination of rights, the court has the power to remove parental rights particularly when the welfare of the child is at risk. Also, a parent may voluntarily choose to terminate their rights as a parent, and end the parent/child relationship, as often seen in the event of adoption.

What Happens to Your Parental Rights if the Other Parent Has Custody?

Custody granted to only one parent does not necessarily stop the other parent from having basic rights as a parent, commonly referred to as residual rights. These residual rights include:

  • Visitation rights
  • Consent to adoption
  • Right to decide child’s religious affiliation
  • Responsibility for support

Do You Need a Lawyer in Determining Your Parental Rights?

Cases dealing with family law issues, such as parental rights, can be quite complex. Laws vary by state, and having a qualified attorney to assist you through the process is an important decision. Since cases involving family law often present challenging and emotionally charged issues, having an experienced and local family lawyer on your side to walk you through the process may prove to be an invaluable asset.