Raising a child is a major responsibility. If you are the biological father, yet you do not want to have any relationship with your child, some states allow you to voluntarily relinquish your parental rights under certain circumstances. In other cases, your rights can be taken away against your will.
Termination of Rights
Terminating your parental rights results in your having no legal relationship with your child. This means that you will have no right to visit or contact your child and will have no say in her upbringing. It is important to understand the distinction between terminating parental rights and being denied custody. In the latter, you still are considered the legal parent of the child even though she may not live with you under the terms of the court order. And, as the legal parent, no one can adopt your child without your consent.
State laws vary when it comes to a parent who voluntarily wants to relinquish his rights. Typically, the process involves completing a petition and filing it with the court, which then holds a hearing to determine whether your reasons are valid under your state's laws. Common examples of when relinquishment may be appropriate include the case of a child who has been in foster care for several months, or if a parent has consented to a legal adoption of the child. It is important to note that in all cases, a judge will be most concerned with whether giving up your rights furthers the best interests of the child. For that reason, judges are likely to deny any request based on avoiding or attempting to limit your child support obligation.
Your rights as a parent can also be taken away without your consent. Although state laws vary, typical grounds for involuntary termination are parental abuse or neglect of the child, or if a debilitating drug or alcohol addiction has made you incapable of meeting your child's basic needs. Involuntary termination petitions can be filed by the child's other parent or by the appropriate state agency, such as the local child protective services office. In some states, the judge will first give you an opportunity to correct the issues that led to the petition being filed. If you take no action, and there is convincing evidence that you are an unfit parent, the judge can decide to strip you of your parental rights.
If your parental rights are terminated -- either voluntarily or involuntarily -- for any reason other than adoption, certain rules may come into play. In many states, a child that has not been adopted is still considered an "heir" for inheritance purposes. Further, while legal termination of parental rights will usually eliminate your responsibility for child support, at least one state has suggested that a parent could still be ordered to pay support after relinquishment if the reason was not for adoption. Relinquishing parental rights has serious and permanent consequences. For this reason, you may wish to speak with an attorney to understand all of the ramifications associated with relinquishment in your state.
- Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid: Termination of Parental Rights
- Utah Courts: Petition to Terminate Parental Rights Upon Voluntary Relinquishment
- LaMantia Law Firm: Termination of Parental Rights
- Family Law Prof Blog: Case Law Development: Termination of Parental Rights Does Not End Child Support Obligation
- Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services: Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights