Can a parent terminate their parental rights?
Most parents have had the experience of tossing their hands in the air in frustration and feeling like they no longer want to be a parent. The feeling is usually short-lived because it is typically the result of a long day of stress, exhaustion, and frustration.
For some parents, however, ceasing to be a child's legal parent is a voluntary act. The choice to terminate parental rights is often made to allow a child to be adopted by someone else to ensure he or she has access to better opportunities. It isn't easy to think about voluntarily giving up your rights as a parent, but it can be applicable in some situations.
Termination of parental rights means that the parent is no longer responsible for caring for or providing for the child. These responsibilities include caring for the physical, financial, and emotional well-being of the child. The parent usually cannot have any contact with the child until they are 18 years old unless the child is in the care of someone who permits them to communicate with the child.
Parental rights can be taken away voluntarily or involuntarily, both of which only a court of law can do.
Why Are Parental Involuntarily Rights Taken Away?
The Child Welfare Information Gateway outlines the most common reasons parents are declared unfit, and a court of law terminates their rights. These reasons include, but are not limited to;
- Severe or chronic abuse or neglect
- Sexual abuse
- Long-term mental illness of the parent
- Long-term alcohol or drug use of the parent
- A felony conviction of the parent for a crime of violence against the child or another family member
According to the Family Law Self Help Center, if Child Protective Services has been involved with a family for more than a year without progress, they can begin the process to terminate parental rights.
In some states, it is possible to regain parental rights after involuntary termination if a parent meets specific criteria. One of these criteria is that the parent proves that he or she has made substantial progress in correcting the conditions that led to the termination of parental rights. It can also include showing the court he or she can now provide a safe and stable home for the child.
Adoption is an Option
Allowing a child to be put up for adoption is the most common reason parents voluntarily relinquish parental rights and responsibilities.
Again, voluntary termination of parental rights can only be granted by a court of law. If parents do not follow the right steps, they can be charged with child-abandonment.
While the laws differ by state, the courts take the voluntary termination of parental rights extremely seriously. Parental rights will usually not be terminated in cases when someone no longer feels like being a parent or providing financial support.
Courts generally feel it is in the best interest of children to have a relationship with both of their parents. Additionally, the courts do not want to place the financial burden of caring for a child on the state and local taxpayers by enrolling them in the foster system if they have the option to stay with their parents.
A court will usually approve a voluntary termination of parental rights if there is someone else who wants to adopt the child. Adoption often happens in divorce situations when one parent remarries, and his or her new spouse wants to adopt the children from the previous marriage.
Termination of parental rights is a complex legal process, and one that has enormous consequences for both parent and child. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. Contact the local bar association in your area to speak with an attorney who specializes in family law issues to learn more about the laws in your state.