Terminating Parental Rights
The law recognizes the special relationship that exists between parents and their children. For this reason, parental rights to visitation are strictly enforced, as are parental obligations, which includes paying child support. However, parental rights are not absolute, so courts have the power to remove them under certain circumstances. Similarly, parents can voluntarily relinquish parental rights, although this also requires court acknowledgement before the severing will be considered official.
Because parental rights are so important, courts are generally wary of permanently terminating them, although they are willing to do so if the person voluntarily gives up these rights or if termination is in the best interests of the child in question. This process is complex, so if you believe that your child’s other parent should have his or her parental rights terminated, it is critical to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer who can help protect the interests of both you and your child.
What is Voluntary Termination?
Terminating parental rights is either voluntary or involuntary. The former occurs most often during adoption or paternity proceedings and involve one parent choosing to relinquish financial responsibility for a child. In some cases, this only requires the signing of a form, in which the relinquishing parent surrenders his or her rights, or the signing of a consent to an adoption. In either case, the document must be signed in front of two witnesses and a licensed notary and will be considered invalid if the signature was obtained through the exercise of duress or fraud.
When a parent does not wish to relinquish rights to his or her child, courts are still permitted to step in and terminate those rights on the person’s behalf. These types of forced terminations only occur when direct or indirect actions have been taken by a parent that endanger a child’s welfare. While courts do try to find less extreme measures besides termination that will allow a child to maintain a relationship with that parent, this is not always possible, especially when:
- A parent abandons his or her child, as evidenced by the fact that the parent has made no real effort to establish a relationship or provide for the child’s financial needs, or if the parent cannot be located for two or more months;
- A parent threatens a child’s well-being, which includes physical, mental, and emotional threats, as long as they are serious enough to represent a risk to the child’s welfare;
- A parent was involved in egregious conduct, such as abandonment, abuse, or neglect; or
- A person’s parental rights over another child were involuntarily terminated.
If any of these situations exist, a court can step in and terminate parental rights, although a petition must first be filed by:
- The child’s other parent;
- Another non-parent who is currently in physical custody of the child; or
- The state.
The petitioner must include details explaining why termination is necessary, after which, the court will hold a hearing to assess the evidence in favor of granting or denying the request. When termination is involuntary, judges make decisions based on what is in a child’s best interests, unless a case involves adoption, in which case, clear and convincing evidence in favor of termination must be provided.
Get Legal Advice Today
To discuss your own questions about your parental rights, please call dedicated Fort Lauderdale child custody lawyer Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. at 954-945-7591 today.