What Does It Mean to Terminate Parental Rights?
Terminating an individual’s parental rights is a very serious matter, whether the court takes away those rights or the parent relinquishes them willingly. In any parent-child relationship, the biological parents inherently have certain rights and responsibilities regarding their children. If, in any situation, those responsibilities are not being upheld, the court may terminate parental rights if it is in the best interest of the child. Or, a parent may choose to voluntarily give up his or her rights, forfeiting any right to see or contact their child and their ability to have a say in how the child is raised.
In the event you are at risk of losing your parental rights, or if you are considering terminating your rights or those of your child’s other parent, it’s extremely important for you to understand exactly what these rights entail.
Find out how parental rights are established, how they can be terminated, and why:
About Parental Rights
Washington state automatically grants the biological parents fundamental rights regarding the upbringing of their child. These rights include the authority to have a relationship with their children, to see them, decide how they are raised, and to make decisions regarding their healthcare, education, religion, extracurricular activities, and more. These rights are inherent and will usually continue until the child reaches the age of 18, unless those rights are terminated.
The Consequences of Terminating Parental Rights
When parental rights are terminated, the parent no longer has any obligations to the child in question. This means the parent has no say in the child’s upbringing, no right to visit or speak to the child, and no associated responsibilities.
A parent’s rights may be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. In other words, the court can decide to terminate parental rights if the parent is believed to be a danger to the child, or the parent may voluntarily relinquish his or her rights.
Parental rights might be terminated in any of the following circumstances:
- Abandonment: The parent did not communicate with the child for at least 6 months.
- Permanent neglect: If a child enters the foster care system and the parent does not make any plans for the future of their children for more than one year after the child entered foster care, they could lose rights based on neglect.
- Mental illness or mental disability: The parent becomes mentally unstable or deficient and is no longer able to care for their child.
- Severe abuse: The child is found to have suffered severe, repeated abuse while under the parent’s care. This includes sexual abuse and neglect.
- Alcohol or drug incapacity: The parent is incapacitated due to excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
- Felony convictions: The parent is convicted of certain felonies, especially those involving violent crimes or domestic abuse. Or, if a parent is imprisoned for a long period of time, forcing the child into foster care, he or she may lose parental rights.
Adoption requires termination of parental rights
The voluntary or involuntary termination of parental rights is necessary for an adoption to take place. If, for example, a stepmother wishes to adopt their stepchild, the rights of the biological mother must be terminated for the adoption to take place. Or if a couple wants to adopt a baby, the parental biological parents must be terminated.
How Are Parental Rights Terminated by the Court?
The court will only terminate parental rights when it is deemed in the best interests of the child to do so. In an involuntary termination, a petitioner usually presents the case to the court. The child’s other parent, grandparents, or other loved ones or caregivers may choose to petition the court if they think the child’s welfare is at risk. Or, child services might make the petition, especially if the child is in the foster system.
After the petition goes through, there will be a trial where the court will hear the cases of either side and decide whether or not the parent should be permitted to keep his or her rights.
Voluntarily Terminating Parental Rights
A parent may choose to relinquish parental rights of their own accord; however, this still requires the approval of a judge and the child’s other parent.
Some reasons why some parents choose to terminate their parental rights:
- To allow another person to adopt their child.
- If they are not capable of caring for a child, such as if the parent is a minor or disabled.
- When a child requires special care that the parents cannot provide and wish to relinquish care of the child to the state.
Can Termination End Child Support Obligation?
The court may allow the parent relinquishing their rights to end their obligation for future financial support and/or past-due child support, if the judge agrees. However, it is extremely unlikely that a court will agree to terminate parental rights if the only reason to do so is to eliminate a child support obligation. Terminating parental rights does remove that parent’s obligation to pay child support if the child is adopted by another party at the same time.
If you are dealing with a parental rights situation, our firm can help. Contact McKinley Irvin at our Washington office to discuss your case with our family law attorneys.