Termination of Parental Rights

Overview of Terminating Parental Rights

Terminating a parent’s rights means that the person’s rights as a parent are taken away. The person is not the child’s legal parent anymore. This means:

  • The parent-child relationship no longer exists.
  • The parent no longer gets to raise the child.
  • The parent usually has no right to visit or talk with the child.
  • The parent no longer has to pay child support.
  • The parent is removed from the child’s birth certificate.
  • The child can be adopted without the parent’s permission.

Terminating a parent’s rights has been called the “civil death penalty” and is taken very seriously by judges. Judges do not terminate a parent’s rights unless there is a very good reason.  This page contains answers to the most common questions about terminating parental rights.

Who Can Terminate a Parent’s Rights?
A parent, guardian, or other family member can file a petition asking to terminate a parent’s rights. If the child or the petitioner receive public assistance (such as TANF or SNAP), it is unlikely that a judge will terminate the parent’s rights.  In that event, the Child Support office must be notified of a termination case and may oppose the termination if public assistance is being provided.

If CPS has been involved with a family, the Department of Family Services (“DFS”) can file a petition asking a judge to terminate a parent’s rights. This usually happens after DFS has been involved with the family for a year or more to try and fix the problems. If the parent does not make progress, or if the problems are very serious, DFS can ask the District Attorney to file a termination of parental rights case.

Can I Give Up My Rights?
Usually not. Judges want children to have two parents to provide emotional and financial support. You cannot give up your parental rights to avoid dealing with a child’s behavioral problems, and you cannot give up your parental rights to avoid paying child support.

You may voluntarily give up your parental rights if someone else wants to adopt the child, or if someone else has filed a petition to terminate your rights.  You will typically need to go to a court hearing to let the judge know your wishes in person.

What Are the Reasons to Terminate a Parent’s Rights?
There are several different reasons a judge can terminate a parent’s rights:

  •  Abandonment. This is behavior that shows the parent intends to give up all rights to the child. Usually, this means that a parent has not contacted the child and has not provided any financial support to the child for at least 6 months without a good reason.
  • Neglect. The parent has not properly cared for the child’s needs, including providing food, shelter, medical care, education, or any other special care needed for the child.
  • The Parent is Unfit. An unfit parent is one who can’t or won’t provide the child with proper care, guidance, and support.
  • There is a Serious Risk of Physical, Emotional, or Mental Injury if the Child is Returned to the Parent. The child would be in danger with the parent.
  • Token Efforts. The parent has made minimal effort to support the child, communicate with the child, or otherwise care for the child.
  • Failure of Parental Adjustment. If CPS removed a child from the home, the parent only has so much time to correct the reasons that caused the child to be removed. If the parents do not correct those problems within a “reasonable time,” the state can petition to terminate their rights.
  • Sexual Assault.  If the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault and the parent was convicted for sexual assault, their rights can be terminated.
No matter what, the judge also has to decide that it would be in the children’s best interest to terminate the parent’s rights. The person asking to terminate the parent’s rights has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that one of the grounds above exists, and that termination would be in the child’s best interest. This is a very high standard.