Wail Sarieh
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Terminating Parental Rights Without Adoption

Family Law

If you are a parent, nothing in this world is more important than your relationship with your child or children. When a court involuntary terminates a parent’s parental rights, it’s one of the most serious actions a court can take. You’re about to learn exactly why the courts in California may act to terminate a parent’s rights and how that very drastic legal procedure works.

In a parent-child relationship, parents have both legal rights and legal responsibilities. Both parents have the right to make choices regarding a child’s education, health care, religious training, and other vital matters. However, if a parent is convicted on a child abuse charge, convicted of some other serious crime, or if a father never claims paternity, a California court may choose to terminate that parent’s parental rights.

If your parental rights are at risk for any reason in this state, you’re going to need legal help. Some of your questions will be answered below, but if you personally face the termination of your parental rights in southern California, you’re going to need sound advice and trustworthy legal representation from an experienced Orange County family law attorney.

FOR WHAT REASONS DO COURTS TERMINATE A PARENT’S RIGHTS?

Parents may voluntarily terminate their own parental rights for a number of reasons, but usually, a voluntary termination of parental rights is a prelude to the child’s adoption by a step-parent. The legal termination of someone’s parental rights ends the parent-child relationship, and that person is no longer, legally speaking, a parent.

The most frequent reasons why a parent’s parental rights are involuntary terminated include:

– chronic or severe abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the child
– any kind of sexual abuse of the child
– neglect or abuse of other children in the home
– a parent’s failure to maintain contact with the child or to support the child financially
– a parent’s long-term mental illness or mental deficiency
– a parent’s long-term alcohol- or drug-related incapacity to fulfill parental obligations

Additionally, a parent may involuntarily lose parental rights if he or she is convicted of particular serious felonies. Any crime of violence against the child or against another family member will put the offender’s parental rights at risk. And a California parent can also lose parental rights if that parent is sentenced to a lengthy prison term and foster care is required for the child.

WHEN PARENTS LOSE PARENTAL RIGHTS, WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHILD?

Usually, a termination of parental rights will mean custody of the child falls to the other parent, although custody may also be assigned to a step-parent, a grandparent, or in some cases, an aunt, uncle, or adult sibling. If no appropriate party emerges to take custody of the child after a termination of parental rights, the court will probably place the child in foster care.

Under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, states are required to terminate a parent’s parental rights when a child has been in foster care for at least 15 of the previous 22 months.

However, the law also allows the following exceptions to the 15/22 rule, so the termination of parental rights is not required if:

– the child is in a foster home with a biological relative
– the state has failed to provide services to facilitate family reunification
– a state agency can document a compelling reason why the termination of parental rights is not in the child’s best long-term interests

Also under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, parental rights must be terminated by the state if a court determines that a child has been abandoned, if a parent has committed the murder or voluntary manslaughter of another of his or her children or has aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited that act, or if the parent has committed a felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury to the child or to another of his or her children.

WHAT IS A CALIFORNIA COURT’S HIGHEST PRIORITY?

Most states, including California, provide even more protection for children than federal law and have laws that spell out even more reasons why parental rights may be terminated. And most states also allow for specific exceptions to those guidelines. The courts in California and in most other states proactively make a child’s best interests the highest priority in any legal matter that involves a child.

In many states, when parental rights are terminated, it’s permanent, and there is no provision for reinstating parental rights. However, in 22 states, parents may petition the court to reinstate their terminated parental rights. In such cases, the court must decide if the parent has made verifiable progress in correcting the conditions that led to the termination of his or her parental rights. The court also must find that a reinstatement of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.

In California, a biological parent’s hopes for regaining terminated parental rights hinge to a great extent on the reason you lost those rights. This state’s lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 519 in 2005 to provide for the reinstatement of parental rights after termination for neglect or abuse. The law, however, is very tough.

HOW CAN PARENTAL RIGHTS BE RESTORED AFTER THEIR TERMINATION?

The California law allows only your child – with the assistance of a foster parent or a social worker – to petition the court to reinstate your parental rights. That petition must be initiated within three years of the court’s original order terminating the parent’s parental rights, and such a petition may only be filed if the child has not been adopted since parental rights were terminated.

If a parent has corrected the conditions that triggered the termination of parental rights, and if the court determines that reinstatement of parental rights is in the child’s best interests, the court may approve the child’s petition. If he or she is older than 12, the child has the right to attend and to speak at any court hearing regarding the termination or reinstatement of the parent’s rights.

Most parents would do almost anything for their children. While every California parent needs to be aware of the law and the reasons why parental rights may be terminated, for the most part, parents have no worries if they’ve committed no crimes and they’re not divorcing. However, legal help from an experienced Orange County family law attorney is available to parents who need it, and if you need it, do not hesitate to obtain it. It’s your right.

Wail Sarieh
By Wail Sarieh