Termination of Parental Rights

The difference between voluntary and involuntary termination.

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You have rights as a parent. Your parental rights afford you the responsibility over the emotional and physical well-being of your child. You have the right to make decisions for your child– decisions that are in the best interest of your child. This could include many decisions related to religious practices and beliefs, health and medical care, and schooling– whether public, private, or homeschooled. You have the right to raise your child as you see fit, as long as it is within the boundaries of established laws. However, these rights aren’t always permanent. They can be terminated, either voluntarily by you or involuntarily on your behalf by a court or judge.

Involuntary Termination: This type of termination of parental rights usually involves a court or a judge making that final decision. There are many reasons why the parental rights would be involuntarily terminated. These could include:

  • Abuse;
  • Neglect;
  • Inability to financially, emotionally, or physically support the child;
  • Alcohol or drug abuse that makes taking care of the child impossible;
  • Abandonment;
  • A felony conviction of a crime against children.

The involuntary termination of parental rights isn’t automatic. There is a required process, unless either of the following applies:

  • The parent is convicted of murder or voluntary manslaughter or caused bodily harm to a child;
  • The parent abandoned the child as an infant.

If the above situations have not occurred, a normal petition must be filed by the court or judge to terminate the parental rights. Keep in mind that each state has different processes and requirements for the termination of parental rights– whether it is voluntary or involuntary.

Voluntary Termination: There are many situations in which parental rights could be voluntarily relinquished. Birth parents voluntarily terminate their parental rights when they place their children with adoptive families. The adoptive parents are then given the parental rights over the specified child. If a parent decides they do not want to be responsible for a child, they have the right, at any time, to relinquish and terminate that responsibility or begin the process to do so. Many states require that the parent requesting to relinquish parental rights must appear before a judge.

When a child is placed in foster care, the parental rights aren’t always terminated. It is completely up to the judge’s discretion and the specifics of the situation. Some children are temporarily put into a foster home until the mother and father are ready to parent. Once the parental rights are severed, the child is adoptable within the foster care system and is known as a ward of the state.