Paternity, Termination & Adoption
No matter if you're here because you want to terminate someone's biological rights to your child or you want your current spouse to adopt your child, paternity plays a huge role in either concept. So, let's start there!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
In most states, when a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother retains sole physical and sole legal custody of the child unless and until paternity is established. This means that the mother has complete discretion to make important decisions for the child, to keep the child with her, and to give the father only such visitation as she wants him to have. If a father wants to have a relationship with his child and a voice in the child’s upbringing, it’s vital for him to establish paternity and ask for custody.
Termination of Parental Rights
PROCESS OF TERMINATION
A parent can voluntarily agree to give up parental rights, which can be accomplished through a legally binding agreement, which would then be presented in court at a termination hearing. A court must still issue an official order to severe the parental ties to the child, but if a judge sees that the parent had agreed to give up all rights, the court will consider this in favor of terminating parental rights.
(2) Going to Court
If a parent refuses to give up rights, then a court will have to decide. The specific court process to terminate rights will vary from state to state, but generally, the petitioner—the person asking that a parent’s rights be terminated—will file a petition or written request with a court. The court will set a termination hearing or trial date where both the petitioner and the parent whose rights may be terminated (respondent parent) will appear in court and present their cases. The petitioner must give the respondent parent proper notice of the request. Notice procedures vary from state to state, but typically, the petitioner must make sure the petition is hand delivered to the respondent and must file proof of service with the court.
Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
A judge may terminate both custodial and legal parental rights if the petitioner can prove that a parent is unfit, meaning unable or unwilling to provide for his or her child’s care and safety. The grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights vary from state to state, but the most common grounds are:
the parent abandoned the child (failed to support or maintain contact with the child)
severe or chronic abuse or neglect of the child
severe or chronic abuse of other children in the household
long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent
long-term drug or alcohol-induced incapacity of the parent
the parent was convicted of murdering the child’s other parent
the parent surrendered the child or agreed in writing to terminate parental rights
Termination of Rights and Adoption
The other circumstance under which a termination of parental rights may come up is through the adoption process. For example, if a child is being adopted out of foster care or because a stepparent wants to adopt his or her spouse’s child from a previous relationship, notice must be sent to the biological parent(s) along with a request for consent to terminate parental rights. In these cases, the biological parent can either agree in writing to give up rights or object.
If the biological parent objects, then the court will hold a termination of parental rights hearing, to determine whether the parent’s rights should be permanently severed and whether the adoption should be approved. The court will consider the same grounds for termination discussed above.
These issues can be quite complex and difficult to handle on your own due to the legal complexity and emotionally-charged nature of the proceedings. It’s best to consult with an experienced family law or adoption attorney in your area if you are facing a termination hearing.
Call our attorneys at (325) 232-8218 to schedule a consultation today!