What Does It Mean to Terminate Your Parental Rights?

Hossein Berenji, Aug 09, 2019

If you’re a parent, you understand that the responsibilities of parenthood are endless. From extracurricular activities to paying for private tutoring, you are expected to be there for your child and provide the things they need to be happy and healthy.

In short, being a parent requires a significant amount of time, effort, and financial resources. However, not all parents are ready to accept the responsibility of having a child. Others may, for various reasons, be unable or unfit to care for a child.

So, what does it legally mean to be a parent? What are your rights and responsibilities? And, is there ever a way to give up your legal rights to your biological child?

Whatever the reason, California law does allow parents to end their relationship with their child in certain circumstances.

What Are Parental Rights?

When a child is born, the biological parents are automatically given certain rights and responsibilities known as parental rights. Parental rights include:

  • The right to child custody and visitation
  • The right to inheritance
  • The right to make important decisions about education, religion, healthcare, and other aspects of the child’s life
  • The responsibility to pay child support, and
  • The responsibility for the child’s misconduct.

Unless legal action is taken, these parental rights persist until the child turns 18-years-old.

Why Would a Parent Terminate Their Parental Rights?

There are several reasons why a parent would want to terminate their parental rights.

First, the parental rights of the biological parent(s) must be terminated before the child can be adopted by someone else.

Second, a biological parent may choose to give up their rights if the parents don’t have a meaningful or ongoing relationship.

Third, the pregnancy may be unexpected and one parent opts to not be involved in the child’s life.

Also, a parent may wish to terminate their rights if they are married to another person.

Finally, parental rights can be terminated for under state law, as discussed below.

Can I Voluntarily Terminate My Parental Rights in California?

Generally, California courts are reluctant to allow parents to give up their rights unless there is another individual willing to adopt the child.

In certain circumstances, however, a parent can choose to terminate their parental rights. The court can also terminate the parent’s rights if it is in the child’s best interest.

Under California’s Family Code Section 7820, a parent’s rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily in any one of the following situations:

  • Abandonment
  • Neglect or cruelty
  • The parent was convicted of a felony
  • The parent is mentally disabled
  • The parent is disabled due to moral depravity or substance abuse, and
  • The parent is mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

Parents aren’t the only ones that can file actions to terminate rights; grandparents, step-parents, an adult sibling of the child. In fact, any adult who has taken over the care and custody of the child may pursue legal action.

What Happens After Parental Rights Are Terminated?

Once a parent’s rights are terminated, they no longer have the right to see or speak to the child or take part in decisions that impact the child’s life. Likewise, they can’t be liable for the child’s actions.

If the biological parent dies without a will, the child will no longer be able to inherit their estate. The obligation to pay child support also ends. But, the parent will likely still be responsible for paying past child support.

What Is the Difference Between Terminating Parental Rights and Emancipation?

You may have heard stories about celebrity child actors becoming emancipated. Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, Drew Barrymore, Alicia Silverstone, Michelle Williams, Gossip Girl’s Taylor Momsen, and Macaulay Culkin are just a few examples of famous emancipated minors.

The difference between the termination of parental rights and the emancipation of a child is that, in the latter, the child is making the choice to sever ties with their parents. It can be thought of as the opposite of parental termination. Though they are different, the end result of both legal processes is the same.

There are several reasons for emancipation, including parental substance abuse, mismanagement of money, and to avoid child labor laws.

Do I Need an Attorney to Terminate My Parental Rights?

The termination of parental rights is very serious and, once your parental rights have been terminated, the decision is final.

If you are considering ending your parental rights or are in danger of having your rights taken away from you by the courts, it’s important to act immediately to protect your best interests.