In the parent-child relationship, parents have some basic rights and responsibilities. Both parents automatically have the right to make decisions about the child's education, religion, health care, and other important concerns. However, a court can take these rights away from a parent if he or she violates the law, or in the father's case, never claims paternity. A parent can also voluntarily terminate his or her rights. Termination of parental rights ends the legal parent-child relationship.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
A parent can also lose his or her parental rights after being convicted of certain felonies. If a parent commits a crime of violence against his or her child or another family member, the court has the option to remove his or her parental rights and terminate the child-parent relationship. Also, if a parent is required to be imprisoned for a length of time that requires the child to enter foster care because there are no alternatives, the parent can lose parental rights.
If the termination of parental rights leaves a child with no legally responsible parents or guardians, the court will typically place the child in foster care. Before a state can terminate parental rights and place a child in foster care, it must file a petition under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). However, state agencies aren’t required to petition in the following circumstances:
Many states have adopted statutes that provide for more protections of children in the above circumstances, shortening the wait times required before parental rights can be terminated and the child is placed in foster care. However, more than half of the states also have exceptions to these guidelines, such as when the child is provided for by a relative or the state believes complete termination of parental rights isn’t in the best interests of the child. For more grounds for the termination of parental rights, see FindLaw's Checklist.
Child's Best Interests
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.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
Most states don’t allow reinstatement of parental rights once they have been terminated. However, under some circumstances, such as when the child has not yet been permanently placed in a foster home, the parent may have the option to file a petition and show he or she has become fit to provide a safe and nurturing home.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Typically, parents voluntarily terminates their rights when they wish to give the child up for adoption. You can find information about consenting to an adoption at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway and FindLaw's Adoption section.
Next Steps: Get a Case Review by a Family Law Attorney for Free
If you have questions about parental rights termination, now is the time to seek help from a qualified legal expert. While your child's best interests are always the key consideration, understanding your rights are also important. Find out more by speaking with a family law attorney free of charge for a initial case review.