When it comes to giving up parental rights this is a concern that many primary conservators have regarding a co-parent who is completely out of the picture of exhibiting a range of harmful behavior. If you are a parent who finds himself in a situation where your child means the world to you and you worry about her well-being when she goes and sees her other parent then today's blog from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is for you. It could even be true that your co-parent is out of the picture but to make sure she cannot re-enter your child's life and cause a disturbance you would like to have her parental rights terminated. This is a legitimate concern to have as a parent given that consistency and stability in the life of your child are paramount. Wanting to do what is best for her starts with providing her with a framework for life that is not set to change at a moment's notice.
The reasons why you want to terminate your co-parent's parental rights usually boil down to their making consistently bad decisions which have put your child in harm's way in the past or are likely to do so in the future. Or, your co-parent may be completely out of your child's life altogether and as a result, you want to be able to make sure that he or she does not try to come back into the picture temporarily only to leave again. You reason that it would have been better for him or her to never have come back into the picture at all if that were to be the situation that played itself out. You may have been the victim of abuse at the hands of your co-parent in the past and this, too, can make you want to inquire about the possibility of having your parental rights terminated.
Whatever the case maybe you need to have all your ducks in a row, so to speak, to pull this off. A court will not take a request to terminate your co-parent's parental rights as a common occurrence and just another run-of-the-mill family law case. Rather, this is a serious situation that you and your co-parent can find yourselves in. To ask a court to terminate a parent's rights is not something that you should come into without having first thoroughly thought through what the consequences of your actions may be. What consequences are there going to be for your child? Is he or she going to suffer because of asking a court to terminate your co-parent's parental rights? If so, then you probably should reconsider your request since a court must first and foremost consider what is in the best interests of your child. If something is not in your child’s best interests, then a court will not grant the motion no matter how appropriate it may seem in other regards.
Another issue that you should think through is what will it take for you to bring this type of lawsuit to court. Do you know anything about family law? What steps are you prepared to take to see to it that your motion is successful and that you are not going to spend time and money on an endeavor that has no chance of success? We have already mentioned that judges are not going to look lightly upon a motion to terminate parental rights. With that said, would you want to submit this petition, not be successful, and then must find yourself in a position where you are dealing with an upset co-parent for the rest of your parenting life? That is less than ideal, to say the least.
From my vantage point, the sensible option for you to turn to at this stage would be to consider your options as far as legal representation is concerned. Do not go into a case like this without a lawyer. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are a phone call away for you to able to reach out to us to learn more about the case you have and your chances of success. What you will learn in a family law case is that your facts matter a great deal. Sometimes, the facts and circumstances of your case matter more than the law in some regard. Do not underestimate how important it is for you to have the law and your facts aligned and to be able to make a strong case for what you are asking for. A free-of-charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys is only a phone call away. We meet with potential clients and inquisitive individuals just like you six days a week.
The odds are stacked against you
Some people like to think about “the odds” and scoff at them. If you are one of those people, then pay close attention here. You may be the person that runs counter to the odds frequently and has lived to tell the story. Bucking trends may as well be your day job as far as you are concerned. There is not much more that I can say about a family law case like a parental rights termination that the odds are not in your favor when it comes to filing a case like this. They just aren't. What you may consider a fairly open and shut case is probably not that in the eyes of a judge. Ultimately, it does not matter what you think or what your co-parent thinks. The judge is who matters. When you put this issue in front of a judge, he or she is going to be able to view it through a narrow prism that has been refined over many years viewing cases like yours and others. With that said, the judge in your case is not going to overreact to circumstances that you consider to be over the top favorable to you. Rather, he or she will look at your case as objectively as possible and in a way that will not be head over heels in your favor.
There are also expenses that you need to bear in mind when it comes to terminating parental rights. Hiring an attorney may be important or even essential when it comes to proceeding with a parental rights termination case but that does not mean that an attorney, especially a good one, will come cheaply. Rather, you will find out that hiring an attorney is an investment. This is true even if you do your research and budget out the costs of hiring a lawyer. Very few people can simply hire an attorney and not look back or think about the financial consequences of having done so. When you make up your mind to hire a lawyer you are probably signing up for the most expensive service that you will ever hire in your life. On top of that, the more complicated your case gets the more expensive having an attorney will be. Family law attorneys charge by the hour. The more work that is necessary on your case…you get the picture.
There are also court costs and filing fees associated with filing a petition to terminate parental rights just like there are in other family law cases. When we go through a parental rights termination case with a client, we will talk to him or her about the costs associated with filing the lawsuit as well as serving your co-parent with notice of your having filed suit. There are court costs, possible use of amicus attorneys and ad litem attorneys that must get involved on top of social studies, and other methods that the judge may choose to implement due to the importance of the case. These are all considerations that you need to think through when it comes to deciding whether to pursue a parental rights termination case. Going "halfway" is not an option, either. When you bring a lawsuit this serious you need to be prepared to see the case through.
It is drastic to have your parental rights terminated. Keep in mind that if you are reading this as either the parent bringing the lawsuit or defending yourself in a parental rights termination suit that means you need to be aware that the case could swing on any number of issues and not necessarily in the direction that you were anticipating. When you ask to terminate your co-parent's parental rights or ask a court to terminate your own, you are setting the child up to have less financial, emotional, and other types of support than if he or she had two involved parents in their life. While you or your co-parent could marry and end up having another “parent” in the picture, that stepfather will not likely be a parent unless an adoption were to be pursued.
What does it mean to have your parental rights terminated?
When you have your parental rights terminated in Texas that means that your legal relationship with your child is no more. You would not retain any legal ability to make decisions on behalf of that child, care for that child, or anything in between. Receiving information about that child would not be possible. You would not only be cut off from an emotional standpoint, but you would legally have no relationship with your child any longer. Absent very specific, narrow circumstances you would not be able to appeal the loss of your parental rights. This is a permanent and critical blow to your relationship with the child such that judges are not ordinarily willing to grant a petition to terminate parental rights except in unique and rare circumstances.
You can have your parental rights terminated in one of two possible situations. The first is the easy, straightforward option. Namely, you could voluntarily agree to terminate your parental rights when a petition is filed by your co-parent. Again, if it appears that you are volunteering to have your parental rights terminated because you want to avoid child support then this is something that the court will see through. Rather, you should look around and consider if the child will be better off without you being a part of it. This is not likely to be something that a judge does without heavy consideration. Do not assume that the judge will look at you and decide to terminate parental rights just because you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Even physical abuse does not necessarily mean that you will have your parental rights terminated though it is a good place to start from.
The other way to have parental rights terminated is involuntary- against the will of you or your co-parent. This means that you would attempt to terminate your co-parent's parental rights, or she would attempt to terminate your parental rights and there would not be an agreement between the parents on this subject. As we mentioned earlier in this blog post this is not only an emotional topic, but it is one where the termination is permanent. In all of the family law, this is one of the most impactful cases due to the permanence of everything- there is no going back once your or co-parent's parental rights are terminated so you need to be sure that you are putting your best foot forward when it comes to parental rights. The last thing you want to do is to make a mistake somewhere along the line. Remember that ultimately you are fighting for what is in the best interests of your children, so it is they who stand to suffer the most if you are ill-prepared.
Grounds for Termination of parental rights
Just like in a divorce, the state of Texas has grounds for termination of parental rights. There are many grounds for termination of parental rights, but we are just going to cover the most common ones that arise most frequently in these parental rights termination cases. First is the endangerment of your child. If you or your co-parent endanger your child in a significant way, then termination of parental rights is an option that can be pursued. Abandonment is a ground for divorce in Texas and it is also ground to have your parental rights terminated. Leaving your child, even with another adult, for an extended period with no intent to return to the child is reason enough to have your parental rights terminated.
Abuse or neglect are two reasons why your parental rights may be terminated. We see this occur in the form of physical or sexual abuse as well as neglect. Neglect does not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred in the form of physical harm to your child, but it is putting your child into or failing to remove your child from a situation that could foreseeably, to a reasonable parent, lead to some sort of physical harm. When neglect and abuse are at issue you often see Child Protective Services become involved. CPS can conduct investigations and make recommendations to the court for how to proceed if your child has to be removed from your home. CPS holds a lot of power. They can recommend reunification with your child after you have fulfilled some sort of regimen of parenting classes or can tell a judge that you need to have your parental rights terminated. CPS cases are unique and as a result, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have written extensively on this subject. You can find blogs on several different subject areas related to CPS here on our website and blog.
Determining whether parental rights should be terminated
Once a petition to terminate parental rights is filed a hearing will be held to decide whether or not parental rights should be terminated. Keep in mind that if you file a lawsuit to terminate your co-parent’s parental rights then you must submit sufficient evidence to merit that termination. The burden of proof, in other words, is on your shoulders. Think of it like you are the state of Texas and you have brought criminal charges against your co-parent. Your co-parent is innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law on a criminal charge. Likewise, he or she is presumed to be a fit parent until proven otherwise. It is up to you to prove otherwise if you intend to have their parental rights terminated. Ultimately, you can prove your case and the termination still may not move forward if a court believes that doing so is not in the best interests of your child.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, 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 in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.