Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights Explained

The parent-child relationship is a powerful one and for most people, it’s an unbreakable sacred bond. Unfortunately, life’s circumstances sometimes cause that bond to break between a parent and child, and in that case, there could be grounds for termination of parental rights under California law. Termination of parental rights requires a specific court order to end the legal relationship between a parent and child, effectively closing the parent’s obligation to support the child financially and ending their right to custody and/or access to the child for visitation. There are several reasons a person might go to court to seek a termination of parental rights including:

  • One parent seeks to terminate the parental rights of the other parent because they have not been involved in the child’s life, have not tried to see the child, and have not financially supported the child
  • A parent has remarried and their new spouse seeks to adopt the child from the previous marriage in cases where the biological parent isn’t involved in the child’s life
  • The other parent has a substance abuse problem and may be a danger to the child
  • The other parent is physically or sexually abusive toward the child
  • A relative or unrelated parent has cared for the child for an extended period of time when the parents have abandoned the child or provided little or no financial support or parenting time and the caregiver seeks a legal relationship with the child with whom they’ve formed a bond
  • The other parent has a felony conviction
  • The other parent has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness or is developmentally disabled

These are some of the most common reasons for seeking the termination of parental rights in California and elsewhere in the United States.

What’s Considered Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights?

California’s family courts take the termination of parental rights very seriously. California code specifies the reasons allowable for seeking the termination of parental rights. These include many of the above reasons that people commonly seek a termination. The law requires proof of the following grounds in order to consider termination of parental rights:

  • Abandonment
  • Cruelty or neglect
  • Parents suffer from disabilities related to drugs, alcohol, or moral depravity
  • Felony conviction
  • Developmental disability or mental illness

Those seeking to terminate a parent’s rights must fill out an investigative questionnaire, provide specific documents, and then request a termination hearing. If a parent contests the termination they may present their case at the hearing after filing a response petition. In court, the parent can try to prove to the court that they are a fit parent and show that they can and will support the child going forward.

Understanding the Consequences of Terminating Parental Rights

Termination of a parent’s rights in the California court is permanent. Going forward, that parent not only no longer has a right to spend time with the child or an obligation to support the child financially, but they also can’t bring forward any future petitions to the court to seek custody, support, or visitation. When one parent files for the termination of the other parent’s parental rights they become the child’s sole custodian and cannot ask for financial support at a future date.

For related or unrelated individuals seeking the termination of parental rights for an abandoned child left in their care, once the court grants the termination they may go on to seek adoption or legal guardianship of the child. In most cases, the court won’t terminate the rights of both parents unless there is a willing adult ready to care for the child and take on the legal responsibility for that child.

In some cases, a parent may seek a voluntary termination of their own parental rights; for instance, a parent whose child is being raised by the other parent and a step-parent who wishes to adopt the child.

California courts always try to act in the best interests of the child. If you have reason to seek a termination of parental rights or wish to defend yourself against a petition for the termination of your rights, a skilled family attorney can help you to navigate the complex California court system.