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Termination of Parental Rights

Sometimes, a parent may be unable to raise their child. There are many reasons why this could be the case. Some may not be ready to parent or have the resources to do it just yet, so they voluntarily terminate their parental rights. Perhaps a child is in an unsafe environment at home and so the state forces the termination of parental rights. Whatever the reason, it can be a challenging time for everyone involved.

If you're thinking of terminating your parental rights, or the state wants to terminate them, it may help to understand more about the process and what exactly it will mean for you and your child. In most cases, it will involve legal filings with the court and a hearing before a judge. Keep in mind that each state may have their own laws that govern the exact process, so be sure to track your local laws on this issue.

How Does a Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights Work?

When someone voluntarily terminates their parental rights, they are giving up any legal recognition of, connection to, or responsibility for, the child in question. Many times parents do this so their child can be adopted. Either or both parents can choose to terminate their rights.

Terminating One Parent's Rights

If one parent wants to legally maintain parenthood of their child, but the other doesn't, they may come to an agreement that allows only one parent to terminate their parental rights. For example, say Parent A and Parent B have a baby but then they have a bad break up. Parent A wants to continue raising the child, but Parent B doesn't want to stay involved in the child's life or pay child support.

Parent B, as the noncustodial parent, will be required to pay child support until parental rights are terminated. The parents may agree to terminate Parent B's parental rights, removing any legal obligation to pay child support to the child. This would also eliminate any rights Parent B has to visitation or custody. One reason Parent A may choose to do this is if they have a new partner who wants to legally adopt the child as their own.

Terminating Both Parents' Rights

If neither parent is able to care for a child they may choose adoption. Adoption laws vary by state and by agency. There are three main type of adoptions in these cases:

  • Closed adoptions, where the birth parents are generally unknown and unconnected to the child once the child has been placed with their family.
  • Semi-open adoptions, where the birth parents may have some specific type of limited contact that's often facilitated by a third party, like the adoption agency.
  • Open adoptions, where the birth parents stay in touch with the child and the child's family even after the adoption.

Generally, the exact terms of an adoption can be customized to meet the needs of the birth parents, child, and the child's adoptive parents.

Parents may also terminate their rights to older children as well, if it becomes necessary.

How Does an Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights Work?

An involuntary termination of parental rights can be a very hard process on the parents and children alike. This often occurs when the state government deems a parent unable to properly care for their children. Abuse or neglect could lead to termination. Essentially, any living environment or set of circumstances that could risk a child's physical, mental, and emotional health, could lead to involuntary termination of parental rights. Experts often recommend counseling for parents and children going through this kind of experience.

Child Welfare Investigations

Sometimes, a state investigation through a Child Protective Services agency or the Department of Children and Families, depending on which state you're in, triggers this process. A concerned neighbor may have reported suspected neglect which leads to the investigation. A mandated reporter, someone required by law to report suspected abuse because of their job, could have notified the state. School teachers and doctors are examples of mandated reporters, and may be required to report if they see abnormal bruising and injuries on a child, or other concerning signs of abuse and neglect.

A child welfare agency investigation may include home visits, doctor report reviews, and interviews with you, your children, and other people you know.

In some cases, the agency may temporarily remove children from the home and place them with relatives or in foster homes while the parent makes changes to improve their home life. Drug addiction treatment or anger management classes could be required.

If the parents don't successfully complete their requirements in a timely way their parental rights may be severed and the children could be adopted.

What To Do if Your Parental Rights Are Being Terminated

Whether you're terminating your rights voluntarily or involuntarily, you should understand the legal options and protections you have available to you. You want the process done correctly to ensure the child's safety and well being, or perhaps you want to fight to get your children back from someone else's custody.

Whichever situation applies to you, it's likely in your best interest to work with a lawyer who has experience in parental right termination cases. A lawyer can help you file the correct paperwork to ensure a termination and a subsequent adoption is legally binding, or a lawyer could help you build a case and fight in court to get your children back home with you. In either case, the knowledge and support of a legal expert could make the process easier and more successful than if you had to try doing it on your own.

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