Under California law, a child’s legal parents have rights and responsibilities to physical and legal custody. Child custody includes not only physically taking care of the child, but also authority over the child’s medical, religious, and educational care. Obviously, taking care of a child requires a lot of responsibility and can be very difficult. In some cases, parents are not able to take care of their child, and those parental rights are terminated. Termination of parental rights is not a subject to be taken lightly, and if those rights are voluntarily waived, it should not be done without considerable thought.
The termination of parental rights can occur either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a number of different circumstances. The termination of parental rights means that the parent is no longer considered the minor child’s legal parent. Therefore, the parent loses the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing and is released from his or her obligation to provide financial support.
The subject of terminating parental rights comes up most frequently with adoptions. In order for a stepparent to formally adopt a child, the corresponding biological parent must have their parental rights terminated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, where a stepfather would like to adopt the child, the biological father may either consent to the adoption and voluntarily waive his rights, or the mother and stepfather may ask the Court to determine that the biological father is unfit, thereby terminating his parental rights without consent. In California, failure to pay child support may be grounds for involuntarily terminating parental rights in a stepparent adoption. Similarly, both parents may choose to waive their parental rights to the child, where they will either become a ward of the state or will be adopted by a new family.
A parent, or both parents, may have their parental rights involuntarily terminated by the court when someone reports mistreatment. The grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights are specific circumstances under which the child cannot be safely placed in the care of the parent or parents. The child is considered in danger when there is a risk of harm by the parent or when the parent is unable to provide for the child’s basic needs. The most common reasons for determining parental unfitness are:
· Severe or chronic abuse or neglect
· Long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent
· Long-term alcohol or drug based incapacity
· Failure to support or maintain contact with the child
· Involuntary termination of the rights of the parent to another child
Parental rights may also be terminated for a parent’s felony conviction for violence against the child or another family member, or a conviction for a felony where the prison term’s length will have a negative effect on the child.
The termination of parental rights is not always permanent. In California, a child over the age of 12 may petition to re-establish parental rights if it has been more than three years since the parent’s rights have been terminated.