Table of Contents:
- Termination of a Father's Parental Rights in Texas
- How to Terminate a Father's Parental Rights in Virginia
The Texas Family Code provides explicit guidance regarding the termination of parental rights in the state. The establishment of the Paternity Registry in 1997 encourages men to be financially responsible for children born out of wedlock or risk the termination of their rights. Termination of a father’s parental rights in Texas is irrevocable.
When Rights are Terminated
The termination or severing of parental rights is permanent. It can be voluntary or involuntary. The Texas Family Code Chapter 161, Title 5 outlines the situations in which parental rights can be involuntarily terminated. They include abandonment of the child, incapacity to care for the child because of drug or alcohol use, endangering the well-being of the child, an inability to properly care for the child due to incarceration, an inability to locate the biological father despite making an attempt by searching the paternity registry, and failure to support the child.
The rights of an alleged biological father can also be terminated if he fails to register with the Texas Paternity Registry or if he doesn’t respond to a court's notice of termination of parental rights by filing a counterclaim or an admission of paternity.
Involuntary Termination of Rights
The termination of a father’s parental rights is necessary before an adoption can be made final. In Texas, a biological father who is not married to a child’s mother needs to register his name on a Paternity Registry within 31 days of the child’s birth to prevent the state from involuntarily terminating his rights. If he fails to do so, the Texas Family Code Section 160.402 provides that the father does not have to be notified by the vital statistics unit of the Attorney General's child support division as to whether his child is adopted or his rights are terminated.
Claiming Paternity Proactively
The Paternity Registry in Texas is generally unknown to people outside of the legal profession. According to the Texas Family Code, a father’s rights to his out-of-wedlock child can be terminated even if he is cohabiting with and supporting the mother. It’s crucial that any unwed father who wants a role in his child’s life file a “Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity."
Terminating Rights and Child Support
Many people believe that a biological father can voluntarily terminate his paternal rights and avoid paying child support. That is untrue because there are specific criteria involved in terminating rights, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The criteria are set forth in the Texas Code, and terminating to avoid paying support is not one of them. Unless a step-parent or another entity legally adopts the child, a legally acknowledged biological father must pay child support.
DNA and the Paternity Registry
DNA testing has led to new scenarios that stretch the limitations of current laws and has forced the Texas Family Code to adapt. For example, a baby in Texas is legally considered to be the child of the man to whom the biological mother is married. Before paternity testing became available and reliable, that law helped protect women and children alike. In today’s society, it introduces new difficulties into paternity suits and adoption proceedings because an alleged biological father has rights and can place his name on the paternity registry and sue for custody of a child.
Locate all possible birth fathers. Names and last known addresses of all possible birth fathers need to be provided by the birth mother to the social worker or lawyer involved in the case. Further, the names, including the birth mother's, need to be searched in the putative father registry.
Send a letter outlining the termination information, the birth father's rights and termination documents by certified mail to all possible birth fathers. The letter and corresponding documents are drafted and sent by the lawyer or social worker involved in the case. In the case of termination because of adoption, the birth father has 15 days under Virginia law to respond to the letter either by contesting the termination or voluntarily signing and sending back the termination documents.
Submit documentation to the circuit or domestic relations court in the county where the child was born or is residing. This documentation should include the signed termination papers from the birth father. If the birth father didn't respond, provide the certified mail receipt as evidence that attempts were made to notify him. If the birth father contests the termination, the social worker or lawyer can present evidence as to why his rights should be terminated. The judge has final say as to whether it's in the best interest of the child to have the birth father's rights terminated.