Terminating Parental Rights

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

The best interest of the child is the term family courts use when deciding who should have custody. The best interest of the child is also the reason some parents choose to terminate their parental rights. There are a multitude of reasons a parent may terminate their rights, from being too young and inexperienced to properly care for their children to accidents and other health issues. Whatever those reasons may be, it is important that the parents understand the legal proceedings.

Involuntary Termination of Rights

Family courts generally believe that children are best served by living with their biological parents. However, there are instances when the courts find that parents are ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities of children. In order to terminate parental rights, the court must first declare that the parent or parents are unfit. This can include any of the following:
- Proof of neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse of the child
- Proof of neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse of other children in the household
- Abandonment
- Mental illness
- Drug or alcohol addiction

It is important to note that every state has different statutes. In some states, parental rights may not be terminated even in the above circumstances if there is sufficient evidence that steps are being made to resolve the issues or if the child is placed under the care of a family member.

Voluntary Termination of Rights

Choosing to terminate parental rights is an emotional choice with many legal procedures and ramifications. Still, it is sometimes best for both the parents and the children. Each state has different procedures, but most make it somewhat difficult for parents to relinquish rights. This is particularly true in the case of parents who are young or may be impaired in a way that causes the court to believe that they don't understand the process. Regardless, those who attempt to terminate parental rights should hire an attorney to help them through the long process.

The termination procedures begin with written consent forms from one or both parents. A court proceeding will take place in which the judge determines if terminating rights is in the best interest of the child. This will usually occur in those instances in which an adoptive family has already been chosen or if there is danger posed to the child(ren) living in the home.

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