Parental rights in California are not absolute. This is apparent enough when two spouses are going through a divorce and the court needs to assign child custody to each of them. Custody can be split between parents in many ways or wholly assigned to one parent with visitation for the other – either way, though, it can feel like parenting is more of a privilege than anything.
Like all other privileges, the “right” to be a child’s legal parent can be voluntarily dismissed or involuntarily revoked under extreme circumstances. Parents who voluntarily choose to give up their parental rights might do so if they have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, or if someone else is adopting their child and their rights must terminate to accommodate the adoption.
But what about involuntary termination of parental rights? This is a situation in which a legal parent’s rights are revoked without the parent’s consent. Parental rights can only be terminated by a court order and if the court finds that the child’s relationship with their parent is not in the child’s best interest.
Reasons for involuntary termination of parental rights include the following:
- Abandonment (failure to support or maintain contact)
- Neglect or cruelty
- Sexual abuse
- Parent’s disability due to alcohol, controlled substances, or moral depravity
- Parent’s felony conviction with consideration of his or her criminal record prior to conviction
- Parent is legally developmentally disabled, mentally ill, or mentally disabled
Who Can Seek an Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?
If someone believes that another person should have their parental rights revoked, they can take action if they are the child’s biological mother, father, grandparent, stepparent, or an adult who has assumed custody and care of a child due to the legal parents’ absence.
Only individuals such as these can file for a termination of someone else’s parental rights when based on one or more of the aforementioned reasons.
Can Parental Rights Be Revoked for Child Support Nonpayment?
Because failing to meet a child support obligation can be construed as a failure to support a child, it can serve as grounds for the termination of someone’s parental rights. This is especially true if a noncustodial parent isn’t paying child support at all or only paying a very small sum compared to what is actually ordered.
Keep in mind, however, that the court will consider a noncustodial parent’s reason for not paying support or only providing partial support. In the latter case, the noncustodial parent’s financial situation may have changed, and a child support modification may need to be ordered. If the parent is purposely only providing “token” support compared to what they could actually be paying, however, the court could also construe this as a failure to support a child and terminate parental rights.
Do Child Support Obligations End When Parental Rights Are Terminated?
Not always. Generally speaking, your obligation to pay child support ends when your parental rights are terminated, but this is typically only possible when someone is there to assume your role as a parent. Absent of such a person, the court is disinclined to sever the legal relationship between a parent and his or her children, and thus their obligation to provide child support payments.
Even if one’s parental rights are terminated along with their obligation to pay child support, they are still responsible for any unpaid child support, which can’t be forgiven or waived.
Can Revoked Parental Rights Be Restored?
If a child hasn’t been adopted (by a stepparent or another party) after a legal parent’s rights were revoked, the court can reinstate parental rights if it believes it is in the best interests of the child. A minimum of three years must pass after termination for reinstatement to become possible.
Do You Need Legal Assistance?
If you feel compelled to seek the termination of someone’s parental rights or are concerned about someone trying to sever your legal relationship with your child, our legal team at Claery & Hammond, LLP can help.