Terminating Parental Rights in California

The raising of a child is a very delicate matter, especially when one of the child’s parents does not want the other parent involved in the child’s life. In many cases, the mother is raising the child and for some reason she feels it is in her child’s best interests if the father is not in the child’s life. This typically happens when the father was physically abusive to the mother or child, or when he is a “deadbeat dad” due to addiction.

However, dads aren’t the only ones losing their parental rights. Sometimes, it’s the biological mother who has abandoned her child, who took to the streets because of a drug addiction, or who ran away from motherhood because it was too much for her to bear.

California, like most states, takes a person’s parental rights very seriously. The state does not strip a person of their parental rights without much thought and consideration into the circumstances of the case. There are instances, however, where it is in the child’s best interests to terminate a mother’s or father’s parental rights. Continue reading to learn when and how parental rights are terminated in California.

When Are Parental Rights Terminated?

To “terminate” someone’s parental rights means a court issues an order that permanently ends the legal relationship between a parent and child. This court order terminates the following rights:

Parental rights can be terminated voluntarily by a parent or they can be terminated involuntarily and enforced by a family court. Usually, parental rights are involuntarily terminated to allow for a stepparent, agency, or independent adoption.

court order for terminating parental rights

An official court order decrees when your parental rights are terminated. Generally, you cannot get out of your obligation to provide child support and other parental duties. However, there are some circumstances that may allow termination of these obligations.

Often, parental rights are voluntarily terminated by fathers who have no desire to be in their children’s lives and they wish to end their legal obligation to pay child support. This frequently occurs when the father did not have a meaningful relationship with the child’s mother or when he barely knew her.

Voluntary termination of parental rights can also happen when the father was married to another woman at the time of the child’s birth. On the other hand, sometimes the mother simply doesn’t want the father involved because she doesn’t love or like him, and she prefers to raise the child without the father’s involvement.

What About Adoption Cases?

Suppose a mother wants to put her baby up for adoption but the father does not consent, or he cannot be located. In that case, the mother will have to file a petition with the court to terminate the father’s parental rights. She will also need to have a hearing before a judge. This applies to fathers who want to put up their baby for adoption as well.

If a father is raising his baby and the mother’s whereabouts are unknown; for example, because she is a drug addict or abandoned her baby, or if the mother refuses to consent to the adoption – the father will have to go through the same steps mentioned above. He’ll have to petition the court to have both his and the mother’s parental rights terminated so he can allow his baby to be adopted.

Forms for Terminating Parental Rights

The California Courts do not have a specific form to terminate parental rights. Our advice is to have a family law attorney help you draft a pleading. To learn more about the law, you can check out Family Code Section 7820, which addresses the termination of parental rights in California.

If you choose to ask the court to terminate parental rights, your request should be based on one of the following factors below. Your pleading should clearly explain why one or more of these reasons apply:

  • Abandonment under Sec. 7822 of the Family Code.
  • Cruelty or neglect under Sec. 7823 of the Family Code.
  • The parent is disabled due to moral depravity or substance abuse under Sec. 7824 of the Family Code.
  • The parent was convicted of a felony under Sec. 7825 of the Family Code.
  • The parent is mentally ill or developmentally disabled under Sec. 7826 of the Family Code.
  • The parent is mentally disabled under Family Code Sec. 7827.

When the Court Grants a Termination of Parental Rights

As we mentioned above, the courts take parental rights very seriously and they are not so quick to terminate someone’s parental rights just because one parent does not want the other parent in the child’s life. As a general rule, the court only terminates parental rights when there is someone else who desires to step in and take on the role as an adoptive stepparent or an adoptive parent.

“What if the other parent is a drug addict or a convicted felon? Can the court terminate their parental rights because they are morally corrupt?” If terminating the person’s parental rights would leave the child with only one parent who is responsible to care for and financially support the child then no, the court would not terminate the parental rights.

Additionally, if someone’s parental rights are terminated, it does not eliminate the child support that they owed. If there are child support arrearages, they are owed up to the date the parental rights were terminated.

“What if the other parent has barely been in their child’s life?” Often, custodial parents worry that the absent parent will suddenly show up one day and try to get custody or visitation of their child. An absent parent is not grounds for the termination of parental rights, with the exception of domestic partner and stepparent adoptions. More weight is placed on the termination request when someone else, such as a stepparent or domestic partner are trying to legally adopt the child.


If you need legal assistance with a parental rights case or another child custody matter, contact our Los Angles family law firm today.


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