Each state and the District of Columbia have laws stating specific grounds for the termination of parental rights, a process that ends the parent-child relationship from a legal standpoint. A termination of parental rights petition is brought to permanently end the legal rights of the natural parents of a child, thereby "freeing" the child for adoption.While states differ slightly on the exact grounds for termination, most statutes hinge on the consideration of a child's best interests. For example, parents who are unable to provide a safe home, or who have been convicted of serious acts of child abuse, may have their parental rights terminated. The following articles and resources cover the process of terminating parental rights, reinstatement of parental rights after termination, and related matters.
Best Interests of the Child
Courts make a variety of decisions that affect children, including placement and custody determinations, safety and permanency planning, and proceedings for termination of parental rights. Whenever a court makes such a determination, it must weigh whether its decision will be in the “best interests” of the child. Most states consider a child's best interests in termination proceedings. In some states, statutes use general language mandating that the child's health and safety be paramount in all proceedings, while other states' legislation lists specific factors that must be considered, such as the child's age; the physical, mental, emotional and moral well-being; cultural and attachment issues; and the child's reasonable preferences.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Typically, parents voluntarily terminates their rights when they wish to give the child up for adoption. Termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary. When it comes to voluntary termination of parental rights, the process is quite difficult because children are generally seen to have a right to a parental relationship and, particularly, a right to receive financial support and care from both parents. Two common situations that often lead to requests to terminate parental rights include a parent who wishes to terminate his/her child support or financial obligation for the child; or a parent who desires to have the other parent completely out of their life.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
When a court orders the termination of parental rights, the legal relationship between a parent and child ceases to exist. It is very rare and only occurs in especially serious cases, such as those involving child abuse or severe child neglect. And even though a parent may petition the court to voluntarily give up his or her parental rights, the main consideration is always the child's best interests. Laws allowing reinstatement were drafted generally in response to older children who were aging out of foster care and wanted to re-establish family ties. Usually, reinstatement is available only on the condition that the child has not been permanently placed with a foster home within a given period of time.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You
Consider meeting with a family law attorney in your area if you have additional questions about reinstatement of parental rights or would like to initiate the process. Remember, a person whose parental rights have been terminated also loses custody or visitation rights with the child. If the voluntary termination occurred through a state child welfare agency, some states do provide for limited post-termination access to the child by the former parent. The family code of each state governs the rules and procedures for termination and post-termination access, if any. To understand how the laws of your state apply to your situation, contact a qualified family law attorney in your area.