can a parent give up parental rights

The termination of parental rights involves a court order in which a parent permanently ends a legal parent-child relationship. Parental rights can be terminated voluntary or involuntary, but can a parent voluntarily give up parent rights? Below is a basic overview on how a parent can give up parental rights in California. 

The Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights in California

The voluntary termination of parental rights is rare unless the minor child is being adopted. There must be good cause in order for the court to do so. For example, a court will support the voluntary termination of parental rights when a stepparent is willing to adopt the child and assume responsibility of caring for his/her spouse’s child.  Both biological parents must consent to the termination of parental rights. The parent voluntarily relinquishing his/her rights must be served with adequate notice before doing so. The parent will also be given the opportunity to consent or object in person during the court proceeding to relinquish rights. Contact A People’s Choice for more information about stepparent adoption.

When Parent Wants To Give Up Parental Rights

A parent cannot give up parental rights simply to avoid paying support unless there is a stepparent willing to take over the responsibility and obligations through adoption.

Even if both parents agree that one parent can give up parental rights, courts have determined that the parent-child relationship is the most fundamental right a child possesses. As a result, absent extremely unusual circumstances, a voluntary termination of parental right has been determined to deprive a child of one of their basic constitutional rights. Courts have ruled that parents do not have the right to stipulate and agree to give up parental rights and their duties and obligations to their child. Courts have decided that such agreements are not based on the best interests of the child.  In their rulings, Courts have indicated that the best interest of the child is more important than the parties’ desire to make an agreement regarding the termination of parental rights.

Consistent with these findings, courts have repeatedly found that agreements between two parties that voluntarily terminate one of the parental rights are void.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In California, there are two main ways in which a court can terminate parental rights, even without the parents’ consent. The process can be filed in Juvenile Dependency Court or in Family Court adoption proceedings, depending on why the parental rights are being terminated.

Terminating Parental Rights Based on Abandonment

In order to terminate parental rights based on child abandonment, evidence must be presented to the court demonstrating that the abandonment was intentional. This can be presented in the form of first-hand witness testimony or written documentation. It is important to note that abandonment by one parent is not, in and of itself, grounds to terminate parental rights, except in cases of stepparent or domestic partner adoption. Someone else must be prepared to assume the parental rights.  The court will not terminate a parent’s rights if that would leave the child with only one parent who is responsible for their support and care, even if the child has been abandoned by that parent.

Terminating Parental Rights Due to Neglect or Cruelty

Child neglect and cruelty also serve as grounds for terminating parental rights in California. Child Protective Services or another local agency investigates the mistreatment of children. In a juvenile dependency court proceeding, one or both parents can be found to be unfit parents and the Juvenile Court can terminate one or both parents’ rights. In this situation, a petition can be filed by the Department of Child Protective Services to terminate the parental rights of one or both parents. The government then becomes the legal custodian of the minor and allow the minor to be adopted without the biological parent consents.  

Parental rights can also be involuntarily terminated if any of the following occur:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Long-term mental illness or the deficiency of a parent
  • Long-term drug dependency
  • Commission of a felony
  • Lack of access as a result of serving prison time

A petition to terminate parental rights can occur for the grounds mentioned above if the court finds the following:

  • The parent does not have legal custody of the child.
  • The child must be in the physical custody of the guardian for at least two years.
  • The court must find that the child would benefit from being adopted by the guardian. The court will do what is in the best interest of the child.

The rights of a presumed father are different from the rights of an alleged father. An alleged father is a father whose genetic paternity has not yet been confirmed and the parties were not married. The alleged father may or may not be specifically identified on the child’s birth certificate. A presumed  father is a father who is legally defined under the criteria of Family Code Section 7611. Contact A People’s Choice for more information about how to terminate a presumed father’s parental rights.

Relinquishing Parental Rights

A parent can relinquish his/her parental rights in the following way:

  • Not respond to a petition to terminate parental rights.
  • Sign a relinquishment of parental rights form.

Restoring Parental Rights

Once parental rights are terminated, they are rarely reinstated. In January, 2005, California enacted Assembly Bill 519. This bill provides a limited way for parental rights to be restored if they were previously terminated for abuse or neglect. The law applies only if no one has adopted the child after the juvenile court has terminated parental rights. The law does not allow the parent to petition to restore their parental rights, but rather the child can petition the court to restore these rights. The process is started by the child informing their social worker or foster parent of their wish to have his or her parents’ rights restored. This request must be made within three years of the court order terminating parental rights.

After a child is legally adopted, there’s usually nothing that can be done to reverse that situation and restore the rights of a parent that have previously been terminated.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about terminating parental rights through a California adoption proceeding. We can help you draft and file all the required legal documents for the termination of parental rights.