How Can a Parent Lose Parental Rights in California?
Child custody cases are some of the most emotionally challenging experiences in parents’ lives. The outcomes of these cases have undeniable effects on the lives of the children affected by them. If you face any child custody determination, a domestic violence case, or any other family law matter in which parental rights could be in jeopardy, it is vital to understand how these cases unfold and how a parent might lose their custody rights.
Whenever the court must rule on a child custody dispute, the judge is legally obligated to rule in favor of the best interests of the child their ruling affects. This may sound relatively open to interpretation, and every custody dispute will involve different issues. However, a parent may completely lose custody and parental rights over their children if the judge determines this would be in the children’s best interests.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Most situations in which a parent has lost parental rights come down to unfitness as a parent, and parental rights are taken involuntarily. However, it is possible for a parent to voluntarily surrender their parental rights, but only under certain conditions. The family court upholds that a child thrives best with equal access to both parents. A parent may not willingly surrender parental rights unless a stepparent is ready to adopt the child. For example, if a child’s custodial parent has remarried and their spouse is willing to adopt, the other biological parent can voluntarily surrender their parental rights.
Voluntary termination of parental rights is typically a requirement for legal adoption. The adoption process can ensure that an adopted child has the same legal rights and protections as a biological child, allowing them to inherit property through intestate succession and file civil claims on behalf of their adoptive parents, such as wrongful death claims. It’s vital for any parent who is considering voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights to understand that it is virtually impossible to re-obtain those rights in the future once surrendered.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Most parents who lose their parental rights do not surrender them voluntarily. However, if a judge determines that a parent is unfit, they may lose custody rights but still face responsibility for child support. Some of the most commonly cited reasons for involuntary termination of parental rights include:
- Past incidents of domestic violence, especially any involving the abuse or neglect of a child. A parent who has engaged in any such actions will likely face a restraining order from the court that will prohibit them from contacting victims or coming near them in the future.
- Criminal convictions, especially for any violent offenses. A judge determining custody may remove a parent’s parental rights if they are currently incarcerated for a violent crime.
- A persistent substance abuse disorder. A judge may deem a parent a safety risk for their child if they abuse any illicit substance.
- An incurable mental illness. A judge may determine that a parent’s mental condition prevents them from being a safe and fit parent.
- Abandonment, or an intentional, extended period of no contact with their child.
If a judge terminates parental rights for these or any other reason, the parent will not have any custody of the child and will not claim visitation rights. However, they will remain legally responsible for child support until a stepparent is willing to adopt the child or the child turns 18.
When a parent has had their parental rights involuntarily terminated, they will typically be prohibited from contacting the child or interacting with the child. In addition, the custodial parent will have sole discretion on significant decisions for the child, and the parent who lost their parental rights can face severe consequences if they violate the court’s determination or fail to continue making child support payments.
Can a Parent Regain Lost Parental Rights?
Once a parent has surrendered their parental rights voluntarily, there would be very few circumstances in which it would be possible for them to regain those parental rights. There are no legal mechanisms in California for overturning or reversing a legal adoption of a child. One possible example of when it may be possible to regain parental rights would be a parent who previously surrendered their parental rights so their child could be adopted. The child’s custodial parents unexpectedly die. The biological parent who previously surrendered their parental rights may petition for custody in this situation.
When parental rights are involuntarily stripped from a parent, they will have very little room to petition to regain them in any measure in the future. Possible exceptions might include parents who have lost parental rights due to substance abuse. If a parent can prove they have completed treatment and maintained sobriety for an extended period, they may petition for some limited visitation or custody. Ultimately, a parent in any such situation must make a compelling case that restoring their parental rights in some measure would suit their child’s best interests.
Can an Attorney Help With a Custody Dispute?
An experienced family law attorney is the ideal resource whenever you have questions or concerns about California’s child custody determination process. Whether you are approaching a custody determination for the first time and firmly believe your co-parent poses an existential threat to your children or you have recently experienced an incident that you think requires the court’s attention, the right attorney can help you navigate your case with greater confidence.
If you have been accused of being an unfit parent or face losing your custody rights for any reason, you will need legal counsel to help you navigate your case. Additionally, if you are planning to adopt a child and need assistance obtaining a noncustodial parent’s signature to surrender their custody rights, an attorney can also assist with this. The attorneys at Bickford Blado & Botros have years of experience handling difficult family law cases, including those involving termination of parental rights. Contact us today to learn more about the legal services we offer and how we can assist you with your case.
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