Termination of parental rights severs all ties between parent and child. Fathers can voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, but this cannot be done to avoid paying child support. In cases where a father is a danger to the child, the state may intervene and terminate parental rights. The state's first concern is the best interest of the child, and the state will not create legal orphans unless another plan for the child is in place.
Grounds for Termination
Grounds for termination vary from state to state, but there are several common reasons. These include abandonment, abuse or neglect, mental illness or deficiency, incarceration, sexual abuse and murder of the child's sibling. If a father has not had contact with the child, failed to provide support or has had parental rights terminated for other children, those may also be grounds. However, none of these will automatically guarantee termination. Each case is handled on an individual basis, always looking at what is in the best interest of the child.
Reasons Not to Terminate
The state cannot terminate parental rights if certain conditions are not met. The state cannot create "legal orphans." If adoption is not an option for the child, parental rights cannot be terminated. This often happens in the case of children who are older or so severely damaged the state cannot reasonably expect to find an adoptive family for the child.
If a child is in state custody, the state has a responsibility to make "reasonable efforts" to provide services to the father to ameliorate the circumstances that led to the child being removed from parental custody. For example, if the parent has drug, alcohol or mental health problems, the state must help the parent find resources for treatment. Failure by the state to provide services will prevent the court from terminating parental rights.
Voluntary termination, also called relinquishment of parental rights, is not taken lightly by the courts and is not easy to do. Unless there is a plan for another person, such as the mother's new husband, to adopt the child, a father cannot voluntarily relinquish parental rights. This would create an undue burden on the custodial parent.
The custodial parent must also consent to the termination. If the custodial parent is receiving public assistance, the courts will not allow a father to relinquish his parental rights. Even if the father is not providing financial assistance at the time, the court wants to reserve the right to continue pursuing child support.
In some cases, parents may voluntarily relinquish parental rights if the state is planning to terminate them anyway. This may help prevent future terminations on other children because the father is deemed to have acted in the best interest of the child. This is especially important if the father has a condition that can be treated and it is presumed that he may someday receive treatment and father other children that he is able to care for.
Best Interest of the Child
The standard all courts must adhere to is called "best interest of the child." If the court does not agree that termination is in the child's best interest, it will not happen. On the other hand, if the court believes that the child would be best served by being adopted by another person, and that the parent will not be able to care for the child in a reasonable period of time, the court may rule that termination is in the best interest of the child.
Attachment Is a Priority
Courts and child welfare agencies want to continue the parental-child attachment if at all possible. If a parent is unable to care for a child, but there is a family member who is willing to become the child's guardian, parental rights will be left intact so that the child can continue to enjoy contact with the father.