One of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process is determining child custody of the divorcing couple’s children. In some situations, a parent may lose their custody rights due to their past behavior. It is also possible for one parent to petition their local family court to have their child’s other parent’s parental rights terminated under certain conditions. Additionally, a court may decree that a parent’s parental rights are terminated in light of criminal behavior, particularly offenses involving child abuse.
Involuntary termination of parental rights is one of the most severe penalties a parent can face, and most courts typically reserve this punishment for parents who are clearly unfit to care for their children. Every state has unique laws concerning involuntary termination of parental rights, and this legal penalty may arise in a case that is unrelated to divorce proceedings, such as a criminal case against a custodial parent.
What Justifies Termination of Parental Rights?
Every family court in the nation has a duty to uphold the best interests of any children involved in a legal matter. In a family court case, determining the best interests of the children is paramount in determining the specifics of a family court order. Involuntary termination of parental rights could come into play whenever a parent displays clear signs that they are unfit to care for and supervise their children.
If a family court judge considers involuntary termination of parental rights, they must determine by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of parental rights is the best course of action for the situation in question. However, family courts in the Midwest and throughout the US continue to uphold that children thrive best with equal access to two parents. In many cases, a family court judge will not pursue involuntary termination of parental rights unless there is a stepparent ready and willing to move into the role of adoptive parent for the children in question.
Some of the most commonly cited grounds for justifying involuntary termination of parental rights in the Midwest include:
- Severe abuse or neglect. If a parent has demonstrated they are unable to safely parent their child and have abused the child, it can be enough for a family court judge to justify terminating the parent’s parental rights.
- Chronic abuse or neglect. When a parent has displayed a consistent habit of poor parenting decisions or has repeatedly neglected their children, this typically justifies the termination of their parental rights.
- Sexual abuse. Any sexual abuse of a child will not only lead to involuntary termination of the offending parent’s parental rights but also severe criminal penalties.
- Abuse or neglect of other children in the household. A parent’s mistreatment of one child could lead to termination of their parental rights for all of their children.
- Long-term chronic illness, mental illness, or disability. Unfortunately, some parents who are perfectly willing to be good parents are rendered unable to manage basic parenting functions for medical and/or mental health reasons. The court must determine whether terminating the parent’s parental rights would suit the child’s best interests.
- Severe substance abuse disorders. When a parent has a long-term addiction and has not responded to prior attempts at rehabilitation, this may constitute grounds for the involuntary termination of their parental rights in the eyes of the court.
- Failure to maintain communication and contact with the child. If a parent essentially abandons their child, or if they allow for a period of three months or longer to pass without contacting them (subject to state law), this could lead to loss of their parental rights.
- Involuntary termination of parental rights to another child. If a parent has a child from a previous marriage or relationship and loses their parental rights involuntarily, the court can use this as justification to terminate their parental rights of their other children from subsequent marriages or relationships.
These are the most commonly cited reasons for justifying termination of parental rights throughout the Midwest. Remember that conviction for certain felonies may also justify the court’s decision to terminate a parent’s parental rights over their children. In certain situations, recovering parental rights after involuntary termination can be all but impossible from a legal perspective.
Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights
An adoptive parent ready to replace the parent who has lost their parental rights is a major prerequisite for any judge to consider involuntary termination of parental rights. Once the judge finalizes the termination of the offending parent’s parental rights, the next phase of the family court process for this type of situation is typically managing the adoption of the child by their stepparent.
Currently, there are very few legal options available throughout the United States that would allow for overturning a court-approved legal adoption or reinstatement of involuntarily terminated parental rights. Ultimately, if a parent’s parental rights are involuntarily terminated, they are very unlikely to ever get those rights back in any way.
Can I Petition for Termination of My Ex’s Parental Rights?
Many termination of parental rights cases stem from criminal cases against the offending parent. When a parent is convicted of a felony, especially a felony that involves the victimization of their children in any way, terminating their parental rights will typically be the court’s priority. However, it is possible for a child’s custodial parent to petition the court for terminating their coparent’s parental rights under certain conditions.
It is more likely for the judge to grant the petition and terminate the other parent’s parental rights if:
- The parent petitioning the court for terminating the other parent’s parental rights is remarried and their spouse is willing to adopt their child.
- The offending parent’s behavior is so extreme as to completely remove any doubts as to their suitability as a parent.
Whether you believe you need to file a family court petition against your child’s other parent to keep your children safe or if you feel that you are facing involuntary termination of your parental rights unfairly, an experienced Midwest family law attorney is your best available asset in these situations. Consult with a reliable attorney to determine the best approach to your unique situation.