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Terminating Parental Rights in Texas

The reality of terminating the parental rights of a person is stark. This will end the parent-child relationship forever. There is no going back from having your parental rights terminated. It is an abrupt end to being a parent in any other than the biological sense. Your parental rights mean that you will not be able to speak into the life of your child and will also be unable to care for that child moving forward. In short, it severs the relationship between child and parent. At various points in your life as a parent it may have seemed like you would always be able to see your child whenever you wanted. However, the termination of parental rights means that you will likely never have a relationship with that child again at least until that child becomes an adult. Even then, not being able to build a relationship with your child while he or she is young probably means not being able to have a relationship with the child at any point in their life. 

What are the consequences of terminating parental rights?

If you were to have your parental rights terminated, then that would mean a series of things for you and your child. The termination of parental rights involves a process through the legal system where a family court could end your parent-child relationship. When you are legally established as a parent then that means your rights and duties concerning that child are in place until that child is no longer a minor. Now, with the termination, those parental rights and duties are no more. Your relationship with your child would be no different than my relationship with him at least from a legal perspective. 

You cannot have your parental rights terminated by a co-parent or spouse. Another person cannot tell you that your parental rights are terminated or that you are not the parent to your child any longer. Rather, you would need to have your parental rights terminated by a court in Texas. Even if you sign a piece of paper saying that you intend to terminate your parental rights, or that you no longer want parental rights for a child, or anything like that you are still the parent to that child. It is only when a judge signs an order terminating parental rights that you are no longer the legal parent. 

When it comes to a termination of parental rights case there is a wide range of people who can file and proceed with a case of this type. For starters, either you or your child’s other parent can file the case. This would be the most common situation where your co-parent attempts to terminate your parental rights after something has occurred that calls into question your ability to parent your child. Or you may choose to file a termination lawsuit after the information has come to your attention early in the life of your child which provides you with reason to think that you are not the child's biological parent. 

People who are not a parent of your child can also file a termination lawsuit. Any person who has court-ordered visitation with your child can also file a petition to terminate paternity. For instance, if your parent has visitation with your child due to any prior family law case then she may also file a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship between you and your child. Many times, grandparents have a front-row seat to dysfunction in the home and try to terminate parental rights when they believe that the life of your child is in danger. Of course, a grandparent may overstep their bounds in certain situations, as well. If you find yourself facing a parental rights termination case involving your child, then you need to be prepared to be able to defend yourself. Having an experienced family law attorney is a great place to start that preparation. 

Immediate family members of your child can also file petitions to terminate parental rights. That means grandparents, great-grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews can also come forward and petition the court to terminate your parental rights or that of your co-parent if you all agree to have the petition filed and your parental rights terminated. There may be limited circumstances under which this could happen such as if a family member is going to adopt your child and you first need to pave the way for that adoption via a parental rights termination. You should talk with an attorney before making any decisions about agreeing to parental rights termination. As we talked about earlier in today's blog post parental rights termination is permanent, so you need to be sure that this is what you want to do and that adoption or any other change for your child is in their best interests. 

When can a parent or future parent file a parental rights termination case?

To terminate the parental rights of a parent, a petition must be filed with a family. This petition can be filed at any point after the birth of your child. The reason(s) why the petition to terminate has been filed will determine in large part whether the petition is granted and what the timeline will look like for your case. For example, if the termination case is based on your co-parent's failure to support your child for at least a year then that sort of petition must be filed no later than six months after the parent begins to support the child if that point in time ever occurs. Keep in mind that this is a hard and fast deadline, so you need to keep a reminder on your calendar on your phone or any other convenient place. Remember that this is the well-being of your child that is at stake. If you do not file, the case and your co-parent continue to care for your child then you would lose the right to bring a parental rights termination case. 

An interesting and downright scary situation involving the termination of parental rights exists when there is a mistake made regarding paternity. Let’s run through a hypothetical situation regarding paternity and why you may want to challenge paternity even after formally acknowledging it. You are an unmarried man who believes he has a child on the way with your girlfriend. To your knowledge, your girlfriend is faithful and has never cheated on you. You find out that your girlfriend is pregnant. Assuming that the child is yours you prepare to be a dad. Your girlfriend prepares for you to be the dad. You talk about moving in together. You buy all the stuff that babies use- diapers, wipes, a crib, etc. You provide it all to your girlfriend with the assumption that the child is yours. 

Your girlfriend asks you to sign something called an Acknowledgment of Paternity before the child is born. This is a legal document that men can sign to declare that he is the father of a child. There is no presumption that a man is the father of a child when he is not married to the mother. As such, you are not going to be presumed to be the father just because you are dating the mother of the child. Rather, you need to go the extra mile to be the legal father to the child. Biological fathers do not automatically get parental rights, etc. So, you do what is asked of you- you sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity and mom does the same. 

You think that everything will be smooth sailing from here. You prepare for the final stages of the pregnancy and then are by your girlfriend’s side when the child is born. When the little one comes out you start to look at him and are concerned- the baby looks nothing like you. It’s hard to tell when the child is first born. Their facial features are not distinguishable, and their little bodies are swollen. Your doubts start to rise as the child spends a few days in the hospital and then is taken home. The child has different hair than you have, a different skin tone, etc. There is nothing to indicate that this child is yours. Eventually, you set aside your hopeful aspirations about the child and admit the obvious- this child is not your biological son. 

When you ask your girlfriend about it she at first does not want to discuss it with you but eventually, you confirm that the child is not yours. Your girlfriend admits that you are not the father, eventually. She made a mistake and confessed that she cheated on you multiple times with one other man. On one of those occasions, a child was conceived. This came as a complete shock to you. Not only did you trust her completely, but you did so to the point where you would agree to sign a legal document acknowledging paternity without any proof that the child was yours. Seeing a face that looked nothing like yours was a surprise but learning about the details of the cheating was something that you could not abide by. You have chosen to instead move forward with attempting to terminate your parental rights to this child which is not your biological child. 

The child is still an infant, but you do not want to waste any time attempting to end your parental rights. That all ends when the child turns two years old in your case. In Texas, a parent must file a petition to terminate parental rights within two years of when he learned or had reason to believe that the child was not his biological offspring. However, it is best to be able to file this case early rather than late. If this is not your child, you do not need to be on the hook for paying child support for a child that is not yours. Make no mistake- you can be ordered to pay child support while this termination case is pending. Technically, you are that child’s father due to your having acknowledged paternity. If you stop paying child support, then the child’s mother or the Office of the Attorney General can attempt to file an enforcement case against you. There is a chance that you could have your parental rights terminated and then owe back child support. This would be a frustrating situation to find yourself in but it is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

For the child, you would want to file the petition as early as you could in his life. The last thing a child needs is to bond with a parent only to have that parent taken out of their life. By bonding with the child you are potentially causing a traumatic breakup in the life of an infant. Infants can build attachments to people- especially their parents. Removing a parent from the life of an infant can be traumatic. You can minimize a situation like this if you are convinced that delaying a case like this will not impact a child all that much. However, children begin to develop bonds with their parents and caretakers the moment they are born. If you step into the life of an infant and then remove yourself suddenly then that is something that can impact a child significantly.

For that reason, it is best to be able to prepare yourself fully for the filing of a parental rights termination case. While it is possible to prepare for a case like this by reading through blog posts such as the one you are reading now it is even better to be able to work with an experienced family law attorney who can help you to figure out a strategy and prepare for the various circumstances you may face in a case. we have discussed how serious this type of case can be and is one where you do not want to waste time if possible.

What issues can be decided when it comes to a parental rights termination case?

As we have already talked about a parental rights termination case will end the legal relationship between your child and yourself. This type of case can also name different joint managing conservators. a curator is a person who can make decisions for another person and also must care for that person. A conservator is not necessarily someone who will also be assigned the role of a parent. Rather, a conservator can be a relative or even Someone who is not a blood relative of the child.

Next, child support can be ordered because of a parental rights termination case. Many times, a man will be ordered to pay child support because of acknowledging paternity. When you find yourself in a situation where your parental rights are being terminated you still need to pay attention to whether you owe child support. if you have passed due child support you will still be responsible for paying that child support. It doesn't matter if you were not the biological parent to the child. All that matters in a situation like this is that at one time you were adjudicated to be that child's parent. In that type of situation, you can be ordered to pay child support and will be responsible for paying that child support back to the child's other parent. You may need to work with the mother or the court on a payment schedule if you are not able to quickly pay back the child support.

The best interests of the child's standard

In a parental rights termination case, the decision to terminate your parental rights will be based on the evidence of the case including what a judge determines to be in the best interests of your child. If a judge determines that it is not in the best interest of your child to have your parental rights terminated, then those parental rights will be maintained. This is regardless of the apparent fairness of the circumstances or the evidence pointing towards you not being the biological father to a child. We spoke earlier about how removing a parent from the life of a child can be harmful to that child. This is true even if you are not a biological parent. It is difficult to form an opinion on your situation without knowing your exact circumstances, however.

The best interests standard is one that the court will utilize in any circumstance involving a decision regarding a child. Their well-being presently and in the future will be considered. Their mental, physical, and emotional development are central to answering this question.

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.

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