Every child deserves committed, loving parents. But sometimes one or both parents cannot or will not provide a nurturing environment for the child. Some parents actually create dangerous or neglectful environments for kids. When that happens, the child’s interests might be best served by terminating parental rights. When a parent’s rights are terminated, the legal relationship with the child ends. A terminated parent is a legal “stranger” to the child and the former parent would have no rights to possession or visitation with the child. Typically, the former parent’s ongoing duty to support the child ends (typically, past-due obligations remain.) Terminating parental rights requires court involvement and a common error occurs when parents try to terminate rights between themselves with contractual agreements not involving the courts. Such agreements have no legal weight because only courts have the authority to decide on this issue. Termination is only applicable in very fact-specific situations and termination is a gravely serious matter – it’s permanent and life-changing.
Agreed or Voluntary Termination
Voluntary termination of parental rights takes place when a parent agrees to give up his or her legal rights to the child. The terminating parent confirms the intention by signing an Affidavit of Relinquishment with details including:
- Information about the child
- Confirmation that the parent understands the agreement
- The name of the managing conservator of the child
The parent then appears in court to confirm the decision to terminate the parent-child relationship.
Common reasons for voluntary termination include:
- Birth mothers and putative fathers are agreeing to let the child be put up for adoption
- One parent is consenting to allow the other parent’s spouse to adopt the child (this is called step-parent adoption and usually happens in a post-divorce family where the child’s step-parent will adopt the child following the termination of the biological parent.)
- After genetic testing, the presumed legal father has learned that the child is not actually his and he wishes to terminate his legal rights and obligations (this is common when a married couple has been separated for some time and the wife becomes pregnant with another man’s child.)
Voluntary termination actions in Texas are relatively straightforward but the matter must be resolved through the court system.
Involuntary termination occurs when the parent to be terminated opposes the action and insists on maintaining legal rights to the child. These actions can arise following neglect or abusive actions towards the child. Under the Texas Family Code, the court may terminate the parent-child relationship if clear and convincing evidence suggests that the parent has committed harmful actions such as:
- Leaving the child alone or with a party who is not the other parent and staying away for at least three months without arranging for adequate support of the child
- Intentionally placed the child in situations or conditions that were dangerous to the child’s physical or emotional well-being
- Failing to support the child, despite having the financial means to do so, for a one-year period ending six months before the termination action was filed
- Abandoning the child without identifying them or providing means of identification
- Keeping the child out of school in violation of the Education Code
- Being found criminally responsible for the serious injury or death of a child
- Endangering the child by using a controlled substance
- Causing the child to be born addicted to drugs or alcohol
The party initiating an involuntary termination of parental rights must present clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s conduct meets statutory grounds for termination. It is imperative to demonstrate that the action is in the best interest of the child.
Even when handled voluntarily, termination of parental rights can be stressful for all parties involved. Precise legal standards must be followed, making it advisable that you retain the services of an experienced Texas family law attorney. For assistance with your sensitive situation, contact Attorney Robert Von Dohlen at (713) 443-6730. Robert understands that in certain situations, termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child and Robert can be your guide to help bring about that outcome.