Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary termination of parental rights is difficult except under certain circumstances.This is because children are generally seen to have a right to a parental relationship and, particularly, a right to receive financial support and care from both parents. However, every state has a statute that permits the termination of the parent child relationship either voluntarily or involuntarily. Involuntary termination usually stems from misconduct by one parent. Surprisingly, voluntary termination of parental rights tends to be even more difficult to accomplish than involuntary termination.

Requirements for Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

Most state laws will require the consent of both the custodial parent and the parent whose parental rights are to be terminated. A qualified family law attorney can assist the parties in drafting a consent agreement for the termination. Once a petition is filed, the court may appoint an amicus attorney, or a “friend of the court”, to represent the child’s interest in the termination. The agreement of both parents that the termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child will not guarantee the termination. The courts must also make a finding of “good cause” for the termination.

Before a court will grant a voluntary termination, they want to know why the parent is requesting termination. Because they want the child to have the privileges of both parents, they will terminate only if there is “good cause” to approve the request. Two common situations that often lead to requests to terminate parental rights include: (1) a parent who wishes to terminate his/her child support or financial obligation for the child; and (2) a parent who desires to have the other parent completely out of their life. Neither ground is generally sufficient alone to constitute “good cause” and will not typically be approved. Courts are particularly cautious in these situations because they do not want to terminate a parent’s financial obligation to support the child. Such a termination may mean that the remaining custodial parent will need public assistance to support the minor child. In essence, the court will not punish a child when parents are trying to avoid their financial or emotional responsibilities.

Most statutes do not specifically define “good cause”, but termination to facilitate an adoption is typically viewed as “good cause.” Courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights where there is no one ready to adopt the child and assume legal responsibility for financial support. Where someone, such as a step-parent, wishes to adopt the child, the termination agreement will often be approved because it includes the prospect of someone who loves and wishes to support and care for the child replacing a parent who no longer wishes a parental connection to a child.

Consequences of Voluntary Termination of Rights

When a court approves a termination of parental rights, the parent-child relationship is completely extinguished and all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood are terminated. This means the ex-parent no longer has an obligation to provide care or financial support. They also forfeit any right to have input regarding the child’s education, religion, place of residence or other child rearing decisions. Generally, a person whose parental rights have been terminated also loses custody or visitation rights with the child. If the voluntary termination occurred through a state child welfare agency, some states do provide for limited post-termination access to the child by the former parent. The family code of each state governs the rules and procedures for termination and post-termination access, if any. To understand how the laws of your state apply to your situation, contact a qualified family law attorney in your area.