Parental rights are generally defined as the rights that a parent has over their child, such as the right to make important decisions or to take certain actions on behalf of their child or children. These rights are typically held by biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and in some cases, even legal guardians.
Some common examples of parental rights include the right to:
- Assume physical and legal custody of the child or children;
- Make decisions over fundamental matters for a child (e.g., education, religion, medical treatment, etc.);
- Visit and communicate with a child;
- Bequest property to a child; and/or
- Enter into a contract on behalf of the child.
A parent can lose some or all of these rights when their parental rights are terminated. For example, if a parent lost the right to have physical custody over their child, then this would mean that their child would no longer be allowed to live with them. This can happen for a variety of reasons which will be discussed in further detail in the section below.
On the other hand, if a parent wants to relinquish their parental rights or voluntarily give up parental rights over their child or children, then they must file a petition with the court. The court will carefully examine the parent’s petition and consider a number of factors like whether terminating parental rights would be in the best interests of the child given the circumstances. A parent may also relinquish their parental rights when they put a child up for adoption.
To learn more about parental rights and how to either terminate or reinstate your parental rights, you should contact a local family lawyer for further advice.
Why Would Parental Rights Be Terminated?
As previously discussed, a parent can lose all or some of their parental rights when such rights are terminated. Although courts are usually reluctant to terminate all of a parent’s parental rights over their child, there are several situations in which they may do so, such as in cases involving:
- Sexual assault; and/or
Parental rights may also be terminated in situations where there is a risk of serious harm or bodily injury to a child, or when a parent is said to lack parental fitness. For instance, a parent may be deemed an unfit parent if they are unable or refuse to provide proper care and support for their child.
One other reason that parental rights may be terminated is if Child Protective Services (“CPS”) finds that a child is failing to adjust in a particular household or family. This can happen in cases that involve adoptive or foster care parents. CPS will give the parents an allotted amount of time to correct the issue. If the parents fail to do so, then CPS may remove the child from the household and file a petition to terminate their parental rights over the child.
What Else Should I Know About Terminating Parental Rights?
One important thing that parents should know about terminating their parental rights is that once those rights are terminated, they will no longer have a say over how to raise or be able to make any other decisions on behalf of the child. However, this also means that they will not be obligated to provide any future child support for the child.
Another crucial detail to know about terminating parental rights is that if a child is adopted or placed in foster care, the biological parent will not be permitted to visit or have contact with the child unless they have entered into some type of contractual arrangement with the child’s adoptive or foster care parents.
Also, while it was traditionally the mother who was given full custody and rights to a couple’s child in the event of a divorce or separation, the trend has since moved towards granting both biological parents full or partial parental rights over the couple’s child or children.
What Happens If I Want to Voluntary End My Parental Rights?
When a parent petitions the court for voluntary termination of parental rights, it means that they are the ones asking the court to end their parental rights, as opposed to having a court or some other state agency intervene and do it for them.
If a parent consents to do this and the court approves the order to terminate their parental rights, then that parent will no longer be considered to be a legal parent to the child because this process dissolves the parent-child relationship in the eyes of the law. Again, this means that the parent loses all parental rights over the child as well as is relieved from all obligations to that child.
For example, a parent whose parental rights have been terminated cannot prevent the child from being adopted or raised a certain way.
Courts take this request very seriously and will likely not permit a parent to voluntarily terminate their parental rights simply because they do not want to pay child support or be a parent anymore. Some factors that a court will evaluate to determine whether or not to approve a petition to voluntarily terminate a parent’s parental rights include:
- The reasons the parent is asking the court to terminate their parental rights;
- If terminating the parent’s parental rights would be in the best interests of the child;
- Whether the child wants the parent in their life or would be in a safer position if the parent’s parental rights were terminated (note this is normally contingent on the age of the child in most jurisdictions);
- If there is evidence that the parent is suffering from undue influence, coercion, or duress from other parties, such as a grandparent, the other biological parent, another relative, or an adoptive parent; and/or
- Whether there is evidence that the parent is under the influence of drugs or other controlled substances that would impair their ability to knowingly make and understand this decision.
In addition, a parent can also voluntarily terminate their parental rights when they place their child up for adoption and comply with the necessary court proceedings.
Can I File for a Termination of Another Person’s Parental Rights?
While it is possible to file a petition to terminate another person’s parental rights with the court, this is not an issue that is taken lightly and thus it can take a long time for a court to issue a decision. The court will request that various investigations and reviews be conducted in order to determine whether terminating that person’s parental rights would be appropriate or not.
The petitioning party will also need to gather evidence and submit other forms of proof to the court that demonstrate why another person’s parental rights should be terminated.
In extreme cases, the party may file an emergency petition for removal of a child or ask that a court intervene to prevent a child from suffering serious harm. When this happens, the person can lose custody along with several other important parental rights.
Under What Circumstances Will a Court Terminate Parental Rights Against My Wishes?
As mentioned above, courts generally tend to try and keep families together. However, that may not always be possible and it may not always be in the best interest of the child. For instance, there are some situations in which terminating a parent’s parental rights is necessary. This may occur when a state agency submits a petition and offers evidence to a court that suggests the child is in danger of being seriously harmed.
The court may then recommend involuntary termination of parental rights after considering a number of factors, such as:
- Whether one or both parents is incarcerated and there is no one else around to take care of the child;
- Whether the parent has abandoned, neglected, or abused the child;
- Whether the parent is suffering from a serious mental illness or drug addiction and is thus unable to provide proper care for the child;
- Whether the parent has ignored the notice to attend the termination hearing in court;
- Whether a parent is unable to or has refused to provide financial support for the child;
- Whether a parent has failed to remedy an issue that CPS has repeatedly told them to fix; and/or
- Whether there is no existing parent-child relationship between the relevant parties.
Additionally, it should be noted that a parent who has served their jail sentence or performed the necessary steps to “get clean” (e.g., attending a rehabilitative program), may be able to have their rights reinstated. Also, if someone is attempting to terminate a parent’s parental rights because they were previously in jail or abusing illegal substances, but are now reformed, this will not constitute a valid reason to terminate that parent’s parental rights.
What Happens After I Terminate My Parental Rights? Can I Have My Parental Rights Reinstated?
When a parent’s parental rights have been terminated, several things can occur. For one, if there is another parent in the picture, then that parent will retain full parental rights over the child. If the parental rights of both parents are terminated, however, then the state or a state agency (e.g., CPS) will gain physical and legal custody of the child. In which case, the state or a state agency will usually place the child either into foster care or with a legal guardian if possible.
In cases that involve a child being adopted, the parental rights of the biological parents will be transferred to the child’s adoptive parents. It should be noted that the adoptive parents must be granted these rights through a formal court proceeding. After the proceeding ends and the adoptive parents have officially been approved as the child’s legal parents, they will be given all of the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent.
Additionally, a new birth certificate will be issued that contain the names of the adoptive and now legal parents. Once this occurs, the biological parents or former legal guardians will be relieved of all financial obligations and/or from providing any other types of support for the child. They also will lose the right to contact or visit the child (with some exceptions).
It is also important to note that while it is extremely difficult to have parental rights reinstated, it is possible to do so in cases where a child has not been adopted or if they have been placed in a situation where it would be in their best interest to remain with the original parent. In such instances, a parent can petition the court to have their rights reinstated.
The laws and procedures for petitioning a court to have parental rights reinstated vary widely by state. Thus, it is important for a parent seeking to have their parental rights reinstated to contact a family lawyer who practices in their area immediately for further guidance. A local family lawyer will be able to help them navigate through the difficult reinstatement process and can ensure that they comply with all of the relevant state laws.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Terminating Parental Rights?
As a parent, it is crucial that you understand the rights you have over your child as well as which activities could result in terminating your parental rights. Therefore, if you have any questions regarding parental rights and need assistance with reinstating or terminating your parental rights, then you should consider hiring a local child support lawyer immediately for further legal advice.
An experienced child support lawyer will be able to clarify and discuss the potential types of parental rights you may have over your child, including those that may be specific to the laws in your jurisdiction. If your lawyer discovers that your parental rights have not yet been terminated, your lawyer can explain what some of your parental rights mean and how you can exercise them.
On the other hand, if your lawyer finds out that any parental rights you held previously have been terminated and you wish to regain some of those rights, your lawyer can assist you in getting some of those rights reinstated. In addition, your lawyer can offer a wide variety of services that will enable them to protect you and your child’s best interests.
Finally, if a lawsuit or another family law issue should arise in connection with your case, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation in court or at any related proceedings.