What is the Termination of Parental Rights?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
If a step-parent wants to adopt his step-child, the natural parent must give up his parental rights.
If a step-parent wants to adopt his step-child, the natural parent must give up his parental rights.

Termination of parental rights is a court order which terminates the custodial rights of a child's natural parent. In some cases, the termination is voluntary and the result of a parent agreeing to give up these rights. In an involuntary termination, a judge issues such an order because it is believed to be in the best interests of the child. This is a very serious step to take, and as a result extreme care is taken to avoid an erroneous termination of custodial rights.

Most jurisdictions only sever parental rights when doing so is in the best interest of the child.
Most jurisdictions only sever parental rights when doing so is in the best interest of the child.

A common context for a termination of parental rights comes up in adoption cases. An adoption cannot go through as long as the child's natural parent retains parental rights. A natural parent who intends to give a child up for adoption can file paperwork which will allow the court to terminate the custodial rights, allowing an adoption to proceed. This may be done in infancy, but it can also be done when a child is older and a natural parent feels unable to provide appropriate care.

A judge may order the involuntary termination of parental rights in cases that involve chronic child abuse and mistreatment.
A judge may order the involuntary termination of parental rights in cases that involve chronic child abuse and mistreatment.

Another situation which can arise is when children are in foster care for an extended period of time. The natural parents of children who are being fostered usually retain their parental rights, but they can opt to surrender them so that their children can be adopted. A court can also order an involuntary termination of parental rights in cases of extreme abuse and neglect where it is clear that the child cannot be returned to his or her natural parents and that adoption proceedings should be allowed to go forward.

A parent who is found to be emotionally abusive might have their parental rights terminated.
A parent who is found to be emotionally abusive might have their parental rights terminated.

Once parental rights have been terminated, parents do not have any rights with respect to their children. They also do not have any responsibilities. This court order severs the legal aspects of the parent-child relationship. However, terminating parental rights does not necessarily mean that a parent and child can no longer be in contact. For example, some natural parents involved in open adoptions incorporate opportunities to have contact with their children into the adoption contract.

Once parental rights have been terminated, parents do not have any rights with respect to their children.
Once parental rights have been terminated, parents do not have any rights with respect to their children.

When it comes to a voluntary termination of parental rights, judges may ask a series of questions to confirm that the natural parent really is acting voluntarily, and is not being coerced. Historically, there have been concerns that people such as teenage mothers may be forced into terminating parental rights and allowing their children to be adopted before they have an opportunity to explore and consider all of their options.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

pleonasm

@croydon - There are still a lot of issues surrounding the termination of parental rights these days, particularly fathers' rights. The law has swung around from automatically granting rights to the man to the other way around.

Neither is the right way to go. It should always depend on what is right for the children. And I think it's rarely good for the kids to have no contact with their father.

croydon

@Mor - I think that's probably not quite termination of parental rights. I think people can sign over children to another guardian without too much trouble and that's probably what those people are doing.

Full termination of parental rights is a large process these days. It used to be a lot easier, because they would take children off unwed mothers all the time, but thankfully those days are gone.

Mor

I read an article recently on how this can be abused. There are some provisions for parents to give up their rights to their children, or at least to sign over custody rights to another person without much trouble. They just need a particular form to be signed.

The problem is that people who go through the process of adopting a child from overseas and then decide they don't want the kid anymore. They will look online for anyone who is advertising for children and then just sign them over. The problem being, of course, that not every person looking for a child has the child's best interests at heart. And these kids often can't speak English well, and are strangers in a strange country, so they are particularly vulnerable.

It's something that needs to be addressed, I think. Maybe have the laws surrounding parental rights reexamined.

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    • If a step-parent wants to adopt his step-child, the natural parent must give up his parental rights.
      By: BlueOrange Studio
      If a step-parent wants to adopt his step-child, the natural parent must give up his parental rights.
    • Most jurisdictions only sever parental rights when doing so is in the best interest of the child.
      By: TAGSTOCK2
      Most jurisdictions only sever parental rights when doing so is in the best interest of the child.
    • A judge may order the involuntary termination of parental rights in cases that involve chronic child abuse and mistreatment.
      By: Pix by Marti
      A judge may order the involuntary termination of parental rights in cases that involve chronic child abuse and mistreatment.
    • A parent who is found to be emotionally abusive might have their parental rights terminated.
      By: stefanolunardi
      A parent who is found to be emotionally abusive might have their parental rights terminated.
    • Once parental rights have been terminated, parents do not have any rights with respect to their children.
      By: DragonImages
      Once parental rights have been terminated, parents do not have any rights with respect to their children.
    • A termination of parental rights leaves the custodial parent to make decisions about the child's education, medical care and religious upbringing.
      By: jolopes
      A termination of parental rights leaves the custodial parent to make decisions about the child's education, medical care and religious upbringing.