Terminating someone’s parental rights is one of the most serious actions a court in Texas can take. If you are involved on either side of a dispute regarding parental rights in the greater San Antonio area, you must be advised and represented by a San Antonio parental rights attorney, also known as a Texas family law attorney.
Parents have legal responsibilities as well as legal rights. Both parents have the legal right to make decisions about a child’s health care, education, religious training, and to make other basic child-raising choices. Parental rights may only be terminated by an order of the court. The process to get that order requires that a lawsuit be filed which is called a “Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship.”
Texas courts rarely terminate parental rights, and those rights are revoked for only the most serious reasons. If you’ll keep reading, those reasons will be explained, and if a court considers the termination of your own parental rights, you’ll learn what steps to take to defend those rights.
Does Your Child’s Other Parent Pose a Risk?
Occasional minor violations of the custody arrangement ordered by the court – a late child support payment, or returning a child late after a visitation – usually is not enough to trigger the termination of parental rights. Something like abuse or abandonment must be proven to the court.
If you believe your child is at risk with your ex, your lawyer may ask the court for supervised visitations. If you fear that your ex may leave the country with your child, ask your lawyer to enter the child’s name in the State Department’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
However, if you believe that your child is in immediate danger, more aggressive action may be needed, and you may need to ask the court for a protective order. A protective order is more powerful than a restraining order, but it also requires a lawsuit and evidence presented at a hearing. A family law attorney can help you obtain a protective order and give you personalized advice.
What Should You Know About Terminating a Parent’s Rights?
If you pursue the involuntary termination of someone’s parental rights, you will have to prove one or more of the reasons spelled out by Texas law for the termination of rights, and you will also have to prove that terminating that parent’s rights is in the child’s best interests. Even if both parents agree that one parent’s rights should be terminated, the judge must still hear evidence and find that it is in the child’s best interests.
Keep in mind that terminating a parent’s rights also terminates a parent’s legal responsibilities, including child support. One reason why courts are so hesitant to terminate parental rights is that termination means only one parent will be supporting the child financially. Sometimes the court will opt to require supervised visits or otherwise limit visitation, but will decline to terminate all parental rights because a termination of parental rights is permanent and child support will end.
Sometimes a man who is ordered to pay child support will threaten to terminate his parental rights just so that he doesn’t have to pay child support anymore. That is generally an idle threat. It is also important to note that the termination of child support is for current and future support, but does not wipe out a debt for past due child support. It is extremely rare for a judge to terminate the father’s rights if the mother does not agree, unless child protective services is involve and abuse or neglect of the child is proven.
Texas courts will terminate a parent’s rights for one of only three reasons (listed below). If terminating the other parent’s rights is the only solution that will work for you and your child, seek legal advice and representation at once from a San Antonio parental rights lawyer.
For What Reasons Will a Texas Court Terminate a Parent’s Rights?
Judges in Texas will approve a termination of parental rights only in these three circumstances:
- The danger to the child of continuing his or her relationship with the parent outweighs the fact that only one parent will be supporting the child financially.
- Termination of parental rights may be granted to allow an adoptive parent to take the parental role (and provide support for the child).
- The parent has abandoned or abused the child (or another child), is in prison, is engaged in criminal behavior, or has been institutionalized for mental or psychological reasons.
Who Else May Seek to Have a Parent’s Rights Terminated?
If you are not legally the other parent, under Texas law, you may seek to have a parent’s rights terminated if:
- You claim to be the child’s biological father.
- You are a child’s foster parent for twelve or more months, and you file the petition with the court less than ninety days after your time as a foster parent.
- You are not the foster parent, but you’ve had actual care, control, and possession of the child for six or more months, and you file the petition with the court less than ninety days after your time in that role.
- You have resided with a child and his or her parent, conservator, or guardian for six or more months, the parent, conservator, or guardian has died, and you file the petition with the court less than ninety days after you resided in that arrangement.
- You were named as the managing conservator of the child in an affidavit of relinquishment, you’ve received consent in writing to adopt the child, or you are recognized by the court as a prospective adoptive parent.
- A court in another state (or nation) ordered your right to visitation or access to the child.
- You are a grandparent or great-grandparent, sibling, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece, and both parents are dead, or both parents, a surviving parent, or a managing conservator agree, and the child’s current situation is harming the child’s health or development.
- In some cases, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or a licensed child-placing agency may ask the court to terminate someone’s parental rights.
Do the Courts Recognize a Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights?
If a parent voluntarily decides that a court should end his or her parental rights, that parent may sign an “affidavit of voluntary relinquishment.” The parent may also sign an “affidavit of waiver of interest” indicating the parent is giving up any interest he or she has in the child.
However, a voluntary action by a parent is not by itself a legal termination of rights. Those rights end only when a court issues a termination of parental rights order. Even though both parents agree that the voluntary relinquishment should be accepted, the judge must still hear evidence that the termination is in the child’s best interests. Usually, a separate attorney must be appointed to represent the child in court. This is another reason that it is important to have an attorney to guide you through the process. Parental rights cannot be terminated without a court hearing.
Are You Facing the Termination of Your Own Parental Rights?
If you face the possible termination of your own parental rights in Texas, you must contact a San Antonio parental rights attorney immediately. The court will make its decision based on the child’s best interests after hearing evidence.
It usually takes something quite serious – like abandonment or abuse – for a court to decide that a parent who wants to be part of a child’s life should have his or her rights terminated.
The right San Antonio family law attorney may be able to mediate an agreement that allows you to retain your rights, and if necessary, your attorney will advocate aggressively and effectively on your behalf at a termination of rights hearing.
If you are on either side of a dispute regarding parental rights, you must do what is best for your child, and you must be advised and represented by a San Antonio parental rights lawyer who will fight effectively for you, your child, and your rights.