Termination of parental rights is the act of legally dissolving the parent-child relationship. Removing a parent’s rights is a serious, permanent action and is not taken lightly by the courts. A decision to terminate parental rights is made when it is determined to be in the child’s best interest. Certain requirements must be met in order to terminate the parent-child relationship. In Texas, these guidelines are addressed by Title 5, Chapter 161 of the Texas Family Code.
Citing Grounds for Termination
A petition to terminate parental rights must cite the grounds that provide the basis for termination. Termination of the parent-child relationship is allowed by state law on the grounds of abandonment, endangerment, abuse or neglect, failure to comply with requirements set by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), conviction of a crime that caused serious injury or death to another child and termination of parental rights of another child. Ultimately, the judge will decide whether to terminate parental rights based on the best interests of the child.
When DFPS Files a Petition
In cases where DFPS temporarily removes a child from the home, the agency is required by law to make reasonable efforts to return the child to the custody of the parents. Parents must also comply with case requirements to work toward the goal of reunification with the child. Failure to comply with the required provisions DFPS may result in the agency filing a petition to terminate parental rights. The law mandates that DFPS act as temporary or sole managing conservator of the child for at least six months prior to filing for termination. The parent will be appointed an attorney ad litem and a hearing will be scheduled no less than 180 days after filing the petition.
Notifying Parents and Relatives
When a petition to remove parental rights is filed, the law requires that both parents are properly notified through official service of the petition. If the location of either parent is unknown, the petitioner must apply due diligence to locating the missing parent. A relative of the parent must be notified and allowed the opportunity to request conservatorship of the child if attempts to locate the missing parent are unsuccessful. An order to terminate the parent-child relationship cannot be issued until proof of notification, or attempts to notify the appropriate parties, are presented to the court.
Locating an Alleged Biological Father
In cases where paternity of the child has not been established, the state requires that reasonable efforts are made to locate and notify the alleged biological father, including a search of the Paternity Registry. Parental rights may not be terminated unless the alleged father has been properly notified or diligent efforts have been made to locate and identify the biological father. If the father is successfully notified of the petition to terminate but fails to respond within the timeframe allowed by the court, an order to terminate rights may be issued.
Proving the Grounds for Termination
The person or agency who files the petition to terminate parental rights must prove the alleged grounds. The standard of proof required by Texas law in termination cases is clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher burden of proof than the preponderance of evidence required in most civil cases, but less stringent than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt needed to prove a criminal case. The evidence presented at the hearing must convince the judge that the alleged grounds have a high probability to be true.
Appointing a Managing Conservator
When the rights of both parents are terminated or when one parent’s rights are terminated and the other parent cannot be located, the court must appoint a managing conservator for the child. Relatives of the child or missing parent will have the opportunity to request the role of managing conservator. The judge will appoint the managing conservator based on the best interests of the child.
Providing Medical History
The state requires that a parent whose rights have been terminated must provide written medical history to be used for any future medical treatment necessary for the child. Required medical history includes that of the parent, as well as other close family members, such as siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. If the petition was filed by DFPS, the medical history must remain on file with the agency.