Child custody is one of the most contentious and emotionally charged legal matters that can unfold in the family court system. For example, suppose you are preparing to divorce or an unmarried parent, and you and your child’s other biological parent have decided to end your relationship. In that case, you should prepare for a child custody determination soon. The family court systems of the United States uphold that every child has the right to care and support from both their parents, but custody determinations often lead to one parent assuming greater custody rights than the other, and the noncustodial parent paying child support to reflect the difference in their parental responsibilities.

While family courts in the US generally strive to ensure that a child will have support from both parents, there are some situations in which a parent can lose their parental rights. It’s also possible for a parent to voluntarily surrender their parental rights under certain conditions. Every parent should understand voluntary termination of parental rights, including what it entails and when it is possible, and they should also understand what involuntary termination of parental rights means.

How Can a Parent Voluntarily Relinquish Parental Rights?

Unfortunately, not every biological parent wants to play an active role in their child’s life. However, a biological parent cannot simply opt out of their parental responsibilities. While they can allow the child’s other parent to assume sole custody, they will still be required to pay child support. The only time a parent can completely surrender their parental rights and escape their responsibility to pay child support is if the child’s custodial parent remarries and the stepparent is willing to adopt the child.

Adoption will provide the adopted child with legal rights and protections as a biological child. If a parent wants their new spouse to adopt their child and the stepparent agrees to assume this responsibility, they must undergo a court review so the court can ensure the adoption would suit the child’s best interests. Additionally, the child’s other biological parent must voluntarily terminate their parental rights. This will free them from their child support obligation, but it will also prevent them from asserting any parental rights in the future. Once this is completed, the parent who surrenders their parental rights to allow an adoption to proceed will be unable to regain their parental rights.

Understanding Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In some situations, the family court may deem a parent unfit to hold any parental rights, or they may remove a parent’s custody and visitation rights if they harm or neglect their child in any way. For example, if a parent commits any domestic violence against their child, the court will likely strip the parent of their parental rights. It is also possible for a parent to lose their parental rights if they commit domestic violence against the child’s other parent, against any other member of their household or their child’s household, or if they engage in dangerous criminal activity while their child is in their care.

If you believe your child’s other parent has abused, neglected, or otherwise endangered your child, you need to notify the police and your attorney immediately. The police will ensure the individual cannot cause further harm as you take legal action against them in the family court system. In addition, your attorney can assist you in securing a protective order that will restrict the other parent from contacting you or your child, and your attorney can help you take further legal action if you believe that involuntary termination of the other parent’s parental rights is justified due to the severity of their actions.

It’s important to understand that with involuntary termination of parental rights, the offending parent still has parental responsibilities to fulfill, namely child support obligations. If a parent’s bad behavior causes them to lose their custody and visitation rights, they will still owe child support. They may end up owing more child support than they previously paid to reflect their loss of custody. The family court typically determines each parent’s support obligation based on how much time a child spends with each of them. It’s assumed that physical custody time incurs expense, so if a parent loses their custody rights, the child will be spending all their time with the custodial parent, thus placing a more significant support burden on the custodial parent.

Is There Any Way to Get Parental Rights Back After Losing Them?

Generally, there is no way for a parent to regain custody and visitation rights once they lose them, whether they give them up voluntarily for adoption or lose them involuntarily due to their bad behavior. Some states provide limited provisions for regaining visitation rights, but these cases are rare and highly regulated by the family court system. For example, suppose you lost your parental rights due to a substance abuse disorder and later achieve sobriety and recover. In that case, you may be able to make a compelling argument to regain limited visitation with court supervision. However, at this point, the decision will rest almost entirely with your child’s custodial parent.

The reality is that if you lose your parental rights due to criminal behavior, especially domestic violence or child abuse, it is doubtful that you will ever get them back in any measure. Additionally, suppose you voluntarily relinquish your parental rights and no longer have parental responsibilities. In that case, there are no legal vehicles through which you could regain them aside from making a compelling case that your child’s adoptive parent is unfit. This situation would be challenging to navigate, but an experienced attorney may assist you in creating a compelling case to regain the parental rights you surrendered if you genuinely believe that doing so would suit your child’s best interests and you have the evidence to back up your assertion.

If you are concerned about losing your parental rights, or if you are preparing for adoption on either side of the case and need legal counsel, contact an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible to discuss your concerns.