Termination of Parental Rights
Terminating a person’s right to be a parent is a strong measure that can only be done under certain specific circumstances. A suit for termination can be brought by a government agency, like Child Protective Services (CPS), or by a private individual like the other parent. A termination can be voluntary or involuntary.
A voluntary termination typically involves the parent signing a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. Once this document is signed before a notary, it is presented in court, and the judge will sign an order terminating that person’s rights to their child.
An involuntary termination can be based on a number of different grounds. Generally, an involuntary termination of parental rights occurs because a parent abandons or fails to support his child, endangers the child, engages in serious criminal conduct, or is otherwise proved unfit to be a parent.
On this page, we discuss the reasons for terminating parental rights, and the legal process for doing so.
A court can terminate the parent-child relationship if a parent has signed an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment. There are a few things you need to know about these affidavits.
First, they must be truly voluntary. An involuntarily signed affidavit is a complete defense to a suit for termination. Because an affidavit of relinquishment waives a constitutional right, it must be made knowingly, intelligently, and with full awareness of its legal consequences. Certainly, if there was any fraud, duress or coercion, the affidavit could be challenged in court.
Second, an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment is required to contain certain information by statute. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before trying to do one of these on your own.
Voluntary terminations can also occur in paternity cases where there was mistaken identity. If a person was adjudicated a father or acknowledged he was the father, but then genetic testing later showed he was not, he can sue for termination. This kind of suit must be filed within 2 years of the man discovering he is not in fact the actual father.
A parent can file a suit to have the other parent’s rights involuntarily terminated. Courts are reluctant to terminate parental right involuntarily but they will do under certain circumstances. If you choose to file such a suit, it is important you are able to prove that the circumstances warrant such a strong step.
What are some of the reasons you can present to terminate the other parent’s right to their child?
- The parent abandons or does not support the child.
You can seek termination if the other parent voluntarily abandoned the child. Voluntary abandonment can occur in a few different ways.
A court will consider it voluntary abandonment if the parent (i) left the child in another person’s possession for at least 6 months and did not provide adequate support, (ii) left the child in another person’s possession for 3 months without adequate support and did not express an intent to return, or (iii) abandoned the child and remained away for any length of time and expressed an intent not to return.
In a CPS case, the government will consider it abandonment if they have made reasonable efforts to return the child, the parent did not make regular visits with the child, and the parent is unable to provide a safe home for the child.
A court can also consider it abandonment if a parent failed to financially support a child within his means to do so for at least one year. In addition, if a father abandons a pregnant woman throughout her pregnancy and into the child’s birth, a court could consider that to be abandonment and terminate that father’s rights.
- A parent endangers a child.
A second ground for involuntary termination is if the parent actually endangers the child. This can happen in a few different ways.
Endangerment can occur if the parent places the child in a dangerous environment. Specifically, the court must find that the parent was aware of the potential danger to the child and disregarded the risk. Further, the child’s physical or emotional health was endangered by the conditions or surroundings. Examples include a parent raising a child in a household with drugs or leaving a child with an unsafe person.
A child can also be endangered if a parent engages in a dangerous course of conduct. Examples include neglect of a child’s basic needs like food or shelter, drug or alcohol abuse, family violence, sexual abuse, violent crime, or a parent’s serious mental problems that put the child’s physical or emotional well-being at risk.
- A parent engages in criminal conduct.
A parent who engages in serious criminal conduct can have his or her rights involuntarily terminated.
If the pregnancy that resulted in the child was the result of rape or sexual assault, the father’s rights can be terminated.
If a parent has been convicted for the death or serious injury of any child, his or her rights can be terminated.
If a parent was convicted of any offense that results in incarceration of at least two years, his or her rights can be terminated.
If a parent has been convicted of murdering, attempting to murder, or soliciting murder of the other parent, his or her rights can be terminated.
- A parent is otherwise unfit.
Parental rights can also be terminated for other reasons that make the parent unfit.
For example, in a CPS case, if a parent fails to follow the service plan or other court-ordered obligations, he or she could see their rights terminated.
In addition, if a court finds a parent is unable to care for a child due to a mental or emotional illness or mental deficiency, it could order termination.
In any termination case, the court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that is in the child’s best interest that the parent’s rights be terminated.
Terminations are strong steps. They are permanent and irrevocable, and they terminate almost all parental rights between the parent and the child. They also typically end any ongoing child support obligation, although any past arrears would still need to be paid.
Contact our San Antonio Termination Attorneys Today
If you wish to terminate your parental rights or are threatened with termination of your parental rights, or if want to have the parental rights of someone else terminated, contact the experienced attorneys at Salmon Haas Law today to discuss your rights. These cases can be complex and require a lot of evidence. Call or email us to set up a free consultation with our office to see if we can help you today.