For various reasons, there may come a time when a parent’s rights are terminated under California law. What this means is that the parent is no longer considered the minor child’s legal parent, and all rights and obligations of being a parent end. The issue of terminating parental rights in California often comes up as part of an adoption process. For example, in a stepparent adoption, the biological father can consent to the adoption and voluntarily waive his parental rights. If the biological father is not willing to do this, the Court may, under certain circumstances, terminate the biological parent’s rights without consent.

Terminating Parental Rights in Stepparent Adoption Proceedings

In a stepparent adoption, there are legal reasons a court will consider terminating parental rights in California. They are: 1) when there has been a willful failure of the parent to communicate with and support the child; 2) when a parent has abandoned the child, or 3) when the biological father is unknown. There are strict requirements that must be satisfied to terminate parental rights under any of these three scenarios. The chart below provides more detail regarding the process required to terminate parental rights in California when a stepparent is seeking adoption of a minor without voluntary consent of the biological parent.

Statutory Basis Status of Absent Parent Requirements Investigation/Cost Hearing
Willful Failure

(Family Code Section 8604)

Formerly married to spouse or domestic partner or has presumed father status. Must show that the absent parent BOTH failed to communication with the child AND failed to support the child for more than 1 year. Social Services will investigate as part of its adoption investigation, at no additional cost. No separate hearing is required. The judge will consider your willful action and the adoption request at the same time as the Petition to Terminate Rights.

(Family Code Section 7822)

Formerly married to spouse or domestic partner, or has presumed father status. Must show that the absent parent EITHER failed to communicate with the child OR failed to support the child for more than one year. If the absent parent cannot be found, you must notify his relatives of the abandonment action and adoption request. Usually a separate agency, most often the probation department, investigates an abandonment petition. The cost can be up to $900. A separate hearing must be held before the adoption can go forward.
Termination of Alleged Father

(Family Code Section 7662)

Alleged fathers only Must serve the alleged father with notice; he can waive further notice or, if he does not file a paternity action within 30 days, his rights can be terminated. No separate investigation. Social Services will wait for you to complete termination of rights and will submit its report indicating that the child is free for adoption. In most cases, no hearing is required and the Judge will sign an Order after you submit the Petition to Terminate Rights and supporting Declarations.

Terminating Parental Rights in Juvenile Dependency Court

Another scenario where parental rights are terminated is during a juvenile dependency court proceeding. If one or both of the minor’s parents have substance abuse problems, are involved in criminal matters, are found to be abusive, or otherwise unfit, the Juvenile Court can terminate one or both parents’ rights. When parental rights have been terminated, the government becomes the legal custodian of the minor child. This allows the minor child to be placed for adoption without the biological parent’s consent.

A Parent Cannot Voluntarily Relinquish their Right ...

A parent cannot voluntarily relinquish their right simply to avoid paying child support or to resolve custody disputes, even if the other parent agrees. A parent cannot unilaterally give up their rights as a parent to avoid paying support. In order for a parent to give up their rights, there must be a stepparent willing to take over the responsibility and obligations of the child through formal adoption.

Terminating parental rights should not be taken lightly and a Petition to terminate parental rights is not always granted. A parent will not be successful in having parental rights terminated just because they are upset with the other parent or don’t want them to be a part of the minor child’s life. In order to have a court formally terminate a parent’s rights, there must be a legal basis to do so.

If you need help with terminating parental rights or filing a stepparent adoption in California, contact our office. We have over 40 years of experience helping people successfully navigate the adoption process and can help prepare and file a petition for terminating parental rights, should that be necessary.

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