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Can Child Custody Rights Be Revoked in California?

Posted by Lee Zavatsky | Mar 29, 2023

Suppose your divorce has been finalized, and the courts awarded your former spouse shared or primary custody of your child. In that case, could child custody still be revoked later? Let's review this crucial topic below.

If your spouse's behavior places your children in danger of harm, such as child abandonment, their custodial rights could still be revoked or terminated.

Can Child Custody Rights Be Revoked in California?

If you have valid reasons to believe that your ex-spouse should have their child custody rights revoked, you could submit a petition to the family court to hear the case.

Further, while a California family court can involuntarily terminate a parent's child custodial rights, a parent could also voluntarily request that their rights be terminated.

No official state forms must be completed to terminate parental rights in California. Suppose a parent is seeking to end their custody rights. In that case, they can draft a letter with help from a lawyer.

The letter must request the termination of parental rights and give a court some reasons, such as drug or alcohol addiction, child neglect, abandonment, or mental illness. They must pay an investigation fee and then attend a termination hearing.

You need to understand that only in extreme cases do California courts revoke child custody entirely. Suppose you have legitimate concerns about your former spouse's ability to provide for the well-being of your children.

In that case, you should contact our Los Angeles child custody lawyers to review the details and legal options.  Let's examine this topic in more detail below.

Can You Terminate Parental Rights?

As noted, terminating parental rights in California is uncommon because it permanently ends a legal parent-child relationship.

In other words, this last-resort action terminates child custody and visitation. Further, revoking child custody also means the following:

  • Ending any parental rights;
  • Ending any parental responsibilities,
  • Ending any responsibility to pay child support.

As noted above, the court can also voluntarily terminate or revoke parental rights. This action is sometimes taken so a stepparent can adopt them.

What is Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment is a common reason for child custody modifications and the revocation of custodial rights. It's described as the following:

  • leaving a child in the care of the other parent or another person;
  • not providing any financial support;
  • not communicating with the child;
  • have the intent to abandon the child;
  • for a period of at least six months.

Child abandonment can also occur when a child is left in the care and custody of the other parent for at least one year without communication.

Child abandonment can be charged as a crime under Penal Code 273a PC in the most severe cases, such as when a parent:

  • willfully causes or permits the child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or
  • willfully causes the child to be injured or places them in an endangered health situation.

The legal penalties for child abandonment include up to six years in prison, fines, probation, restraining order, stay-away order, and a counseling program.

Court Proceeding for Custodial Rights

If your former spouse's behavior qualifies as child abandonment, you can petition the court to revoke their custodial rights.

Petition to Revoke Child Custody Rights

California Family Code 7820 says, “A proceeding may be brought under this part for the purpose of having a child under the age of 18 years declared free from the custody and control of either or both parents if the child comes within any of the descriptions set out in this chapter.”

Related Family Code 7821 says, “A finding pursuant to this chapter shall be supported by clear and convincing evidence, except as otherwise provided.”

Suppose a parent has failed to provide support or communicate with their child. In that case, presumptive evidence of the intent to abandon is considered.

Suppose a parent has made minor efforts to maintain communication or support the child. In that case, the court could still declare the child abandoned.

When this occurs, the parent who abandoned the child will be legally declared free from custody and control of the child.

Suppose both parents abandoned the child. In that case, they can be assigned a legal guardian, such as a family member, put up for adoption, or go into the Los Angeles County foster care system.

What Are Other Reasons to Revoke Child Custody?

Child custody can be revoked or terminated in California for many other reasons. Child neglect or cruelty can occur in different ways, such as the following:

  • child is not provided essential nutrition;
  • child is not provided adequate medical care;
  • child is regularly left unsupervised;
  • child is regularly filthy or ungroomed;

Notably, this neglect is not an occasional missed meal or bath but rather when it happens regularly.

Family courts can also revoke child custody based on a parent's substance addiction, including controlled substances or alcohol.

Suppose a parent's substance abuse interferes with their ability to care for their children adequately. In that case, they could lose custody of their children.

Suppose a parent completes court-ordered substance abuse programs and can remain sober for the time required by the court. In that case, they could have their child custody rights reinstated.

Still, other reasons why child custody rights could be revoked or terminated in California include the following:

  • A parent's mental illness causes them to neglect their children;
  • Failing to live up to essential parental responsibilities;
  • A parent attempts to destroy the relationship with other parent;
  • A parent does not attempt to spend time with their child;
  • A parent intentionally violates a child's custody order;
  • A parent fails to show up in court for custody hearings;
  • A parent fails to uphold court-ordered parental responsibilities;
  • A parent commits serious domestic violence against family members.

Contact a Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyer

California courts will ALWAYS base child custody determinations on the children's best interests.

Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyer

Thus, failing to follow essential parental responsibilities will often result in the revocation or termination of child custody rights.

Suppose you have valid reasons, with documented proof, that your former spouse is not honoring their basic primary responsibilities and is impacting your children's well-being. In that case, you must review the details with an experienced child custody lawyer.

As noted, revoking or terminating child custody is a severe legal action and is often considered a step of last resort.

We can help you better understand your rights and the best legal options. If your children are in danger of being harmed, you must take the legal steps necessary to protect them, but there must be valid evidence to support your claims. Contact the Los Angles divorce lawyer at Furman & Zavatsky for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Lee Zavatsky

Lee Zavatsky is a partner at Furman & Zavatsky, a law firm dedicated to the practice of Family Law. Mr. Zavatsky has been selected as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the...

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