The decision to terminate a person's parental rights is one of the most serious that a family court can make. Whether your rights are being threatened or you need the court to remove the other parent's rights, you will need excellent support during this time. In addition to your network of social support, you need an experienced family law attorney to ensure you make the best possible case to the court.
For different reasons, there might come a time when a parent's rights are terminated under California law. This means the parent is no longer considered the child's legal parent, and all parental rights and obligations come to an end.
Termination of parental rights in California often comes up in the adoption process. For instance, in a stepparent adoption, the biological father could give consent to the adoption and voluntarily waive his parental rights.
In a situation where the biological father refuses, the family law court could terminate his parent's rights without consent.
Another situation where parental rights could be terminated are during a juvenile dependency court proceeding. If either parent has drug or alcohol addiction problems, criminal issues, abusive or they are found unfit, the juvenile court could terminate the parents' rights.
In general, there are two ways in which a parent can lose their parental rights: voluntarily and involuntarily. Either way, parental rights are not terminated until the court orders it.
A parent who wants to relinquish their rights, the other parent of a child, or a state's Child Protection Services (CPS) may petition the court for the termination of parental rights.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Because of the term “parental rights,” some people may assume that parents can quickly sign away their rights. However, California courts weigh a parent's desire to relinquish their rights against the child's right to have two parents.
As such, parents must have valid reasons in order to voluntarily terminate their parental rights and relieve them of their responsibilities.
In general, courts are willing to grant voluntary termination of parental rights when it is for the purposes of adoption. For example, if a couple does not believe they can parent a child and wants another couple to become the parents, the courts will likely see that the child's right to have parents is fulfilled and grant the termination.
Step-parent adoptions in which one parent is absent may also give the court a reason to grant the order. Typically, a termination of parental rights means custody of the child will fall to the other parent, but could also be given o a step-parent or a grandparent.
If no appropriate family member emerges to take custody of the child after termination of parental rights, the family court will most likely put the child in foster care.
The state of California provides more protection for children than federal law and has laws that lay out more reasons why parental rights may be terminated. All family law courts in California aggressively make a child's best interests the highest priority.
Reasons a Court Considers the Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
When it comes to child custody and parental rights cases, the primary consideration of the court is the benefit of the child. In some cases, the court must involuntarily terminate a parent's rights in order to keep a child safe.
However, this is a serious order to make, so courts only do it in extreme cases. A parent can lose his or her rights if they:
- Struggle with an alcohol or substance addiction that keeps them from being able to parent
- Commit severe or chronic abuse or neglect against the child
- Abandon the child
- Commit any kind of sexual abuse against the child
- Fail to maintain their financial or parenting obligations for an extended time
- Suffer from a mental impairment that keeps them from being able to parent
- Get convicted of certain serious felonies
- Commit any violent crime or domestic violence against a family member
- Get sentenced to a long prison stay, particularly if this leaves the child in foster care
- If you have re-married and want your new spouse to adopt your child
California Family Code 7820 provides that the family law court could terminate the parental rights of a parent if they have abandoned their child.
For instance, you might be able to establish the other parent has abandoned your child and terminate their custodial rights if the other parent has not provided any financial support, had little or no contact with your child for over a year, and their intent was to abandon your child.
This list does not include all factors that may cause a parent to lose rights to a child, but these are some of the most common reasons. Generally, the courts only terminate rights if the petitioner can prove that doing so is in the best interest of the child's health, safety, and welfare.
What Happens When Rights Are Terminated?
When a parent's rights are terminated, it legally separates the child from the parent completely. The parent then no longer has any right to visitation or custody. Typically, they do not pay child support either.
Furthermore, the child loses the right to the parent's inheritance, social security, or medical insurance benefits.
If the court terminates the rights for one parent but sees the other as fit to parent, all rights and responsibilities fall on the remaining parent. If the rights were given voluntarily in order to facilitate adoption, the adoption can then move forward.
In some cases, the court terminates rights involuntarily for both biological parents. CPS will find a new permanent home for the child and prioritize placing the child with the biological family, such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent.
Can Parental Rights Be Restored in California?
California is one of the states in which parents can seek the reinstatement of parental rights after termination. However, convincing a court to restore these rights is anything but easy. Only the child can petition to restore the parent's rights–the parent cannot get the ball rolling.
Furthermore, the child (with the help of a social worker or caretaker) must file the petition within three years of the original termination of rights, and the child must not have been adopted during that time.
If a parent has corrected the issues that caused the termination of parental rights, and if the family court determines that reinstatement of parental rights is in the child's best interests, the court might approve the child's petition.
If the child is older than 12 years old, they have the right to attend the hearing to speak about the termination or reinstatement of the parent's rights. Finally, the court must see that the original issue that caused the termination has been resolved and that restoring the rights would be in the best interest of the child.
How a Los Angeles Family Law Attorney Can Help
Our Los Angeles family law attorneys have years of experience and can help you through your child custody case. We can prepare a well-supported legal case while keeping your child's best interest in mind. We understand that child custody issues are a sensitive matter. Our law firm can guide you through your termination of parental rights case.
You have to file a petition with the court to begin the termination of parental rights process in a situation where the termination is contested. The parent will be provided an opportunity to defend their parental rights and show the court they are a fit parent and able to support their child.
Voluntary parental right termination is an easier process that only requires filing some paperwork with the court. Parental rights are the legal ties between a child and a parent. When dealing with a parental rights case, it's vital to have the right legal representation.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys located in the San Fernando Valley at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Contact our office for a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471.