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Terminating Parental Rights in Texas

Facing circumstances in which you are concerned for your or your child’s safety can be extremely unsettling for a parent like yourself. If your spouse or partner has harmed you or your child then taking steps to prevent that person from coming into contact with you or your child is likely of the utmost importance. Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will focus on the issue of terminating a parent’s rights to their child.

When we talk about terminating parental rights, we are truly discussing a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). In seeking to end a parent’s parental rights, you are asking a court to sever the legal relationship between your child and that parent. It is important to note at the outset of today’s blog post that you can only terminate a parent’s rights with the aid of a court order. You cannot simply have the other parent sign a piece of paper wherein she terminates her parental rights voluntarily.

Two different affidavits can come into play when a parent is willing to voluntarily relinquish or waive their rights to a child. The first is an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment. This is a type of affidavit where the other parent can state that he or she agrees that the family court judge should terminate their parental rights. The other is called an affidavit of waiver of interest. This affidavit allows the other parent to give up any interest that he or she has in the child (whether or not the child is born, or not).

It will still take a court order, signed by a judge, for the signing of these affidavits to have any legal effect. The remainder of today’s blog post will discuss the circumstances surrounding a case related to this sort of subject matter.

What to do if you are concerned about the safety of yourself or your child?

If you or your child have been the victim of a physical assault by your spouse or your partner you should take action immediately to protect yourself and your child. Contacting the police in the event of an emergency is proper as is filing a police report against the violent parent. You should not assume that nothing can be done until your termination case is filed with the court. Your safety is important and you need to be proactive on your behalf and your child’s while your case is getting filed.

Who is able to file a termination of parental rights case?

Either you or your child's other parent may file a termination of parental rights case in Texas. On the other hand, if you are not a parent to the child who is the subject of the termination lawsuit then you can still file a termination case if you are a person who has court ordered visitation or access with the child, such as a grandparent. You may also file a parental rights termination case if you are a man who does not have parental rights currently, as to that child, but is alleging that you are the biological father.

The next most common scenario in which a parental rights termination case is filed by someone other than a parent is when the petitioner has had actual care, control and possession of the child for at least six months ending not more than 90 days before the date that the termination case is filed with the court.

If you are a grandparent, great-grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew of a child you may also file a petition to terminate one of (or both of) that child's parent's rights if both parents are dead or both parents agree to the termination. If neither of those circumstances applies to you and your family you may still bring the termination lawsuit in the event that the child's present circumstances will significantly harm the child's physical health or emotional development.

When can a termination of parental rights case be filed?

Generally speaking, once a child is born a termination case may be filed. The reason that a person is asking a judge to terminate your or your child’s other parent’s parental rights will have an impact on the timeline of when to file the case.

First of all, a termination case based on the other parent's failure to support a child for a year should be filed no later than six months after the parent begins to support the child if that parent ever does begin to support the child.

In the event that you are a child’s mother and have incorrectly designated the legal father of a child, that man must file a termination of parental rights case no later than two years after he finds out that he is not the biological father of the child.

Finally, a foster parent who has had possession of the child for at least 12 months must file a termination of parental rights case no later than 90 days after their period of possession ends.

Starting a parental rights termination case in Texas

Before beginning a parental rights termination case you should consult with an attorney. This process is more complicated than most any other family law case- and with good reason. You are asking a judge to formally sever the relationship between a parent and their child. That is a large burden to place on the shoulders of a judge. As a result, there will be multiple steps to the case in order to show the judge that doing so is in the best interests of the child. You will be best served to have an attorney by your side throughout the case.

What happens if you need to have a situation dealt with immediately?

If you find yourself in a situation where your child is at risk of serious harm, or you are a family member to a child who is at risk of being harmed by a parent you can file a termination suit to attempt to put a stop to the dangerous behavior of that parent. In the termination suit, your attorney can request that temporary restraining order (TRO) be issued. This TRO will last until you can actually get into a courtroom for a hearing in front of the judge. The TRO can limit contact between the abusive parent and the child and will bar him or her from entering the child’s school or daycare.

The hearing that I referenced a moment ago is known as a temporary order hearing. In a temporary order hearing, you present evidence to a judge in hopes of having your desired temporary orders put into effect by judicial mandate. Many times the terms of the TRO will simply be extended until the end of the termination case.

I will again make a pitch for hiring an attorney to represent you in a termination of parental rights case- whether you are the parent whose parental rights may be terminated or if you are the parent (or family member) who is filing the termination lawsuit. You do not need to hire an attorney just because you have met with him or her for a consultation. Interview multiple attorneys, learn about the case and then make a decision that is best for you and your family.

In the event that your child’s safety is at risk, the other parent is contesting your termination lawsuit and is represented by a lawyer then you absolutely need to hire an attorney, yourself. It is possible to hire an attorney to only provide you with advice for your case and not actually attend a hearing with you. You can receive legal advice, help with drafting and filing paperwork without actually having to hire the attorney to sit in with you at hearings. This can help you manage your budget better.

It is still better to be able to have an attorney represent you for the case in and outside of hearings. However, if you simply cannot afford to hire an attorney to do so it is better to have some advice and guidance from a lawyer than none at all. On top of that, if you are the parent who is facing having your parental rights terminated then you can ask the judge to have an attorney appointed to represent you if you cannot afford to hire one. You would need to qualify as being indigent in order for this to occur.

How much does it cost to file a termination lawsuit?

There are costs associated with filing a parental rights termination case that varies from county to county. You may be able to ask to have court costs waived in the event that you are indigent and have no resources from which you can pay those costs. There are filing fees associated with merely filing a piece of paper with the county or district clerk. A schedule of those fees can be found on the clerk’s website for the county in which you are filing your case.

What must the judge decide in a termination of parental rights case?

If your termination of parental rights case is successful, the legal relationship between the parent and the child is ended. There is no longer any duties or rights owed to that child by that adult. Additionally, a managing conservator of that child may be named if both parents’ parental rights are terminated. Child support and a name change of that child (if requested) may be ordered as well.

A parental rights termination case can be done by agreement. This is known as the voluntary termination of parental rights case. If your spouse or partner agrees to have their parental rights terminated, then they can relinquish their parental rights by filling out a form that we discussed earlier in this blog post. Or, he or she can simply ask the judge to do so. Ultimately, a judge must decide that it is in the best interests of the child in question to have that parent's rights terminated.

Why could a parent’s rights be terminated without their consent?

In the event that the other parent of your child does not agree to have their parental rights terminated, it may happen that the judge terminates them involuntarily. Abandonment of the child, endangerment of the child, criminal conduct by the parent and/or being otherwise unfit to parent are all common reasons why parental rights are terminated in Texas.

Adoption and termination cases

A judge has to terminate the parental rights of a child’s parents before an adoption can proceed. That means if you are interested in adopting a child, the first step would be to move for the termination of a parent’s rights. All living parents of the child must have their rights terminated. In combined cases where termination and adoption are considered, a judge would terminate parental rights in the same court appearance where the adoption petition is considered.

Questions about the termination of parental rights cases? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

Termination of parental rights cases is among the most difficult and emotion-filled of any that a person can encounter in the world of family law. With that said, you need to make sure that you have the ability to make the strongest possible arguments no matter what side of the case you find yourself on. Your child’s well being, and possibly your relationship with that child moving forward are on the line.

If you have questions about your case or need clarification about anything that you have read today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where your questions can be answered and your concerns addressed. Our attorneys take a great deal of pride in representing members of our community just like you and we look forward to speaking to you about you and your family. Thank you for spending some time with us today.

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  1. Terminating Parental Rights in Texas on the Absent Parent
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Spring Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Spring, TexasCypressSpringKleinHumble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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