Signing over parental rights should never be taken lightly. A custodial parent may seek termination of parental rights in situations where his or her child no longer has a relationship with the non-custodial parent, or when the child is believed to be in imminent danger. In such cases, the court will typically order a hearing. However, parents seeking to terminate the other parents' parental rights should know up front that in situations where the non-custodial parent voluntarily agrees to terminate his or her parental rights (in other words, signing over parental rights voluntarily), child support obligations typically cease.
This means that the non-custodial parent would no longer be responsible for past unpaid or future child support payments.
Court Considerations in Termination of Parental Rights Cases
Family court judges take termination of parental rights very seriously. They do not typically consider termination unless they believe doing so would benefit the child. In the face of termination requests, the courts carefully consider the following factors:
- Communication efforts - The courts generally consider the non-custodial parents' past efforts to have a relationship with the child.
- Child support payments - The courts also look to whether child support was provided in the past and/or is being provided in the present.
- The child's wishes - The courts typically reserve consideration of the child's wishes for children thirteen years of age or older.
- The best interests= of the child - This refers to what is considered best for the child's overall well-being, including care for his or her safety and basic needs, education, and stability.
- Abandonment - Whether the parent previously abandoned the mother during pregnancy or abandoned the child after he or she was born.
- Safety - The courts also give careful consideration to whether the non-custodial parent's behavior in the past placed the child in danger
Anticipating Court Decisions
Parents on both sides of a termination request are often, and understandably, anxious to predict or anticipate the court's decision.
It's important to remember, though, that the courts will focus on the best interests of the child when considering the termination of either parents' parental rights. This often means maintaining as much consistency in the child's life as possible. However, it's not possible to predict outcomes in every case.
It's true that the courts generally prefer not to terminate parental rights, particularly if they believe the possibility of improved relations between the parent and child, and/or between both parents, exists. In this way, the courts tend to be optimistic and only consider parental termination as an extreme last resort. Unless a child is in a situation that is clearly dangerous—or the non-custodial parent voluntarily requests signing over parental rights, and someone is waiting to immediately adopt the child—the courts generally prefer to avoid terminating a biological parent's rights. Instead, most courts will attempt to accommodate a parent's needs and wishes, to the furthest extent necessary.
In some cases, this means offering supervised visitations in lieu of termination and/or requiring the parent to participate in a series of parenting classes.
A Word of Caution for Parents Wishing to Initiate Termination of Their Own Parental Rights
Termination of parental rights and all related proceedings should never be taken lightly. In situations where child support payments are the driving force behind a non-custodial parent's desire to terminate his or her own parental rights, he or she should first try to modify the child support payments—prior to considering a complete release of one's own parental rights.
Edited by Jennifer Wolf.