Voluntary and Involuntary Termination | Reinstatement of Parental Rights
Under the law, every parent has certain rights to be involved in the lives of their children and to make decisions about their children’s welfare. There are situations, however, where the courts, the government, or the other parent may seek to terminate those parental rights.
Common Reasons for Termination of Parental Rights
First and foremost, parental rights may be terminated when doing so is in the “best interests of the child.” If a parent exercises their parental rights in a way that puts the child at risk of harm, a state agency (such as a Child Protective Services agency) or the other parent may ask a court to terminate parental rights.
In situations where it can be demonstrated that the father is not the biological parent, that person’s parental rights can be terminated, either voluntarily by the father or at the request of the mother.
Finally, when a stepparent seeks to legally adopt a child, the rights of the biological parent may need to be terminated, so that those rights can be transferred to the adoptive father.
Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Though the law governing parental rights differs from state to state, these bases for involuntary termination are recognized in virtually all jurisdictions:
- Sexual abuse of a child
- Severe or chronic physical/emotional abuse or neglect of the child
- Severe or chronic physical/emotional abuse of other children in the same house
- Abandonment of the child
- Substance abuse of a nature and duration that it renders the parent unfit
- Long-term mental illness or impairment of the parent
- Failure to provide financial support to the child
- Failure to maintain regular contact with the child
- Conviction of certain types of felonies, including crimes of violence against others, including family members
- Long-term incarceration of the parent
What Are the Consequences of Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?
The involuntary termination of parental rights automatically vests all parental rights in the other biological parent unless adoption proceedings have been initiated. In such a situation, any parent with adoptive rights will then have all legal parental rights.
In the event that an involuntary termination leaves the child with no legally responsible parent/guardian, the child usually will be placed in some type of foster home. However, before that occurs, federal law requires the state (through Child Protective Services or a similar agency) to file a request for placement in foster care. In some instances, though, foster care can be implemented without filing the petition:
- The child is an abandoned infant.
- The parent is found guilty of murder or voluntary manslaughter of another of their children, or they aided or abetted such an act.
- The parent is convicted of felonious assault resulting in serious bodily harm to the child or any of their other offspring.
- The child has been in foster care for at least 15 of the last 22 months.
How Does a Parent Voluntarily Terminate Parental Rights?
The situations where a parent may voluntarily relinquish their parental rights are limited, as courts are disinclined to allow parents to waive their rights in order to simply avoid support obligations or the challenges of parenting. In those circumstances where a court will permit voluntary termination, there must be a clear demonstration that doing so is in the child’s best interests.
A parent may voluntarily terminate their parental rights by:
- Written agreement with the other parent—It’s important to understand that even though you put your voluntary relinquishment of parental rights in writing, the court must still find that doing so is in the “best interests of the child.” Accordingly, the court usually schedules a termination hearing to consider the agreement.
- Opting not to challenge a request for termination of parental rights—In stepparent adoptions, it’s common for the remarrying spouse to ask the court for termination of the noncustodial parent’s rights. You may choose not to attend the hearing, or you may attend and indicate your preference that the adoption take place.
Can Terminated Parental Rights Be Reinstated?
Though courts rarely reinstate parental rights that have been legally relinquished or terminated, a parent can always petition for such reinstatement. Such a petition must show that their circumstances have changed dramatically and that they can provide a safe and nurturing environment on more than a temporary basis.