The term “parental rights” refers to that bundle of legal rights and privileges that parents have to make decisions concerning the well-being of their children. This includes the right to make decisions about their children’s healthcare, education and religious practices.

Under the law, parents can include biological and adoptive parents or stepparents. Legal guardians can sometimes exercise some of these parental rights if the court determines it’s in the best interest of the child. These parental rights can be limited when directed by court order, such as pursuant to a child custody order following a separation or divorce.  

How Can I Terminate My Parental Rights?

On a case-by-case basis, the court may terminate a parent’s right if doing so is in the best interest of the child. The court will typically apply a very high standard, such as “clear and convincing,” when determining whether to terminate a parent’s rights.

The termination of parental rights regularly occurs when a biological parent wants to give up their rights in order for their child to be adopted. This is considered a voluntary termination. The court can sometimes order the involuntary termination of a parent’s rights when the child has been abused or the parent is otherwise unfit or unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities to care for the child. This may happen when there has been severe physical or sexual abuse, or the parents are abusing alcohol or drugs.

What Happens If I Want to Voluntary End My Parental Rights?

If you want to voluntarily give up your parental rights, you can start by petitioning the court to do so. In determining whether to grant the petition, the court will carefully review the facts of the case and satisfy itself that the termination is truly voluntarily.

In determining whether the parent is voluntarily giving up their rights, the court will consider some of the following factors:

  • Whether there is evidence that the parent is suffering from undue influence, duress, or improper pressure from biased parties like the other parent, grandparents, or adoptive parents;
  • Whether there is evidence that the parent is under the influence of any drugs or controlled substance that might impair their ability to make a knowing decision;
  • The reasons the has parent given for requesting to have their parental rights terminated;
  • The child’s desires or wishes with regard to the parent; and
  • Whether terminating the parental rights is in the best interests of the child.

Under What Circumstances Will a Court Terminate Parental Rights Against My Wishes?

The law is interested in trying to keep the family unit intact, but there are circumstances that mandate the court terminate a parent’s rights. Sometimes the court will act when a child protective agency initiates a proceeding or evidence otherwise comes before the court that recommends the parent’s rights be severed.

In so doing, the court will look at some of the following factors:

  • Whether the parent abandoned the child or there is no existing parent-child relationship;
  • Whether the child is suffering from physical or emotional neglect from the parent;
  • Whether the child is being sexually or physically being abused by the parent;
  • A parent repeatedly failed to cure the failures cited by a child protection agency;
  • A parent refused to financially support the child;
  • Whether the is parent incarcerated;
  • Whether the is parent suffering from drug addiction or serious mental illness; and/or
  • Whether the parent neglect to respond to notice from relevant parties about the termination hearing.

What Happens After I Terminate My Parental Rights?

When you terminate your parental rights, or the court does it for you, the other parent retains their parental rights. If both parents terminate their rights or have their rights terminated, the state will take legal and physical custody of the child, often placing them in foster care or with a legal guardian if one is available. If the parental rights were terminated to allow the child to be adopted, the new parents can immediately begin those proceedings.

Once adopted, the new parents have all the rights and responsibilities of any biological parents. A new birth certificate will be issued showing the names of the new parents, the former parents are relieved of the obligation to financially support the child, and the former parents have no rights to visit or have contact with the child.

Can I Have My Parental Rights Reinstated?

The court considers the severance of a parent’s rights to be a last resort, so it is rare for parental rights to be reinstated once the court finds grounds to terminate them. However, if the parent’s rights have been terminated but the child has not been adopted, the court may we willing to hear your petition to reinstate your rights. Consult with an attorney to determine what rights you have in your state.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Terminating Parental Rights?

If you are seeking to terminate your parental rights or the court wants to terminate your rights, consult with an attorney right away so you can be fully informed. A termination of parental rights is considered final, so you should also consult with a child support lawyer to identify any other options available to you short of termination.