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The termination of parental rights in Texas What you need to know before going to court

There are two ways that your parental rights can be terminated by a court in Texas: involuntarily and voluntarily. That is what we will be discussing in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Termination of your parental rights is a tough concept to wrap your mind around. I would like to share information with you now rather than to have you be surprised by what happens in court. 

What can you do if your child’s other parent wants to terminate your parental rights?

You may find yourself in a position where you are no longer in a relationship with your child’s other parent. That parent and you have been experiencing some difficulties and attempting to raise your child together and she is now talking about getting your parental rights terminated. If you start to hear rumblings about this, it is necessary for you to be able to stand up for yourself. The first step in that journey is knowing the law and how to use it to defend yourself from your child’s other parent. 

The Texas Family Code contains approximately twenty different reasons (or grounds if you like to use legal terms) as to why your parental rights could be terminated by a court. Your child’s other parent would need to file a petition with a family court specifying which of these reasons she is basing her petition on. It is not a sure thing that your rights will be terminated. It is set up to be very difficult for the state to terminate a parent’s parental rights. However, it is possible to do this and it is more likely if you come to court unprepared. 

Essentially, terminating your parental rights makes it as if you and your child never had a legal relationship at all. If your parental rights are terminated you will have no right to receive information about your child, no right to make decisions about your child’s well-being and no duty to provide support for your child. These are the hallmarks of the parent-child relationship. In addition, you will have no right to be able to spend time with your child. As you can see, a termination case is very serious, and you need to approach the case seriously as well. 

When your parental rights are terminated there is basically no opportunity for you to come back and reinstate your parental rights in the future. There is no doubt that if you want to mount a defense against a termination petition that you should do your due diligence and hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you. Many attorneys will tell you that they will take family law cases but whether or not that attorney has any experience in family cases is another subject altogether. Do not put your relationship with your child at risk by hiring an attorney who has never worked a termination case before. 

What are some examples of the grounds on which a termination suit can be based?

If you have failed to provide basic necessities for your child for an extended period of time you could have your parental rights terminated. If you become incarcerated and do not have a support system to care for your child while you are in jail then your parental rights can likewise be terminated. In addition, child abuse and neglect that necessitate the intervention by Child Protective Services (CPS) can also lead to a termination suit filed by the State of Texas. These are just a handful of the reasons why your parental rights could be terminated. I am not going to list the other seventeen reasons why your rights to your child may be in jeopardy because I want to spend the rest of today’s blog post walking you through the termination process itself. 

What sort of circumstances typically lead to parental rights being terminated?

It is usually extreme situations that lead to the termination of parental rights. In most cases, I will tell you that from my experience, even if you have done of the things listed in the Texas Family Code as being the basis for a termination lawsuit, it is not likely that your rights will be terminated. The actual facts and circumstances usually need to be very over the top in terms of how many instances you have engaged in this behavior or the particular risk of harm presented to your child. Otherwise, making a mistake may cause a court to limit your rights or access to your child but will typically not result in termination of your parental rights.

What happens with termination by agreement between you and your other parent?

It is possible in Texas for your parental rights to be terminated by agreement between you and your child’s other parent. The State of Texas understands that the family unit is the basis for our society. Their interest lies in having a healthy state where children are cared for and those children are able to grow up into functioning, productive adults. It’s not that the state has a huge heart and really cares for your child in particular. It’s out of the State of Texas’ own self-interest that they want two parents to be available and able to raise a child.

How, you may be asking, does this impact you and your desire to terminate your parental rights in relation to your child? Put yourself in the shoes of a Texas family judge. A piece of paper has just crossed your desk (or more likely your computer screen) wherein you and your child’s other parent have filed a joint petition to have your parental rights terminated in relation to your four-year-old daughter. This judge has some big decisions to make.

Suppose then that the judge eventually terminates your parental rights. From that point forward you have no rights or duties in relation to your child. This means that your child has no more of a relationship to you than to any other adult in the State. This is a final decision, for the most part, and you will have little opportunity to come back in the future and get that decision reversed. 

A scary prospect can arise if your child's mother were to pass away unexpectedly while your child is still a minor. Now your child has no parents that are around to help raise her. From the state's perspective, your child has nobody in the world who has a legal obligation to care for and support your child. This is a difficult position for your child and the state to be in. As you can see, this is part of the reason why courts are so hesitant to terminate a parent's parental rights- even if you are asking the court to do so.

What can you do to show a court that your situation merits termination of your parental rights?

If you find yourself in a position where you are asking a court to terminate your parental rights there are a few things that you and your child’s other parent should keep in mind. 

Is there a person you know who can step up as a parent in your place after termination?

Do you know any other persons who are willing to become a conservator of your child, essentially stepping into your place as a parent? Your child's mother and this person could offer a better support system that your child's mother alone. A court would view this situation as a somewhat more desirable set up circumstances in which they can place your child moving forward. If your child's mother is married would her spouse be able to step into this role? What about a grandparent, uncle, aunt or another family member who has been a big part of your child's life?

Speaking to an attorney before you come up with a plan to “transfer” conservatorship rights to another adult (even a relative) is a good idea. You do not want to start filing court documents and have hearing dates set up for a parental rights termination case without seriously considering your options and long-range consequences of doing this. Even if you do not plan on parenting this child moving forward you will still want to do the right thing for him or her. 

How much is the case worth to you- literally?

We have already touched on the state’s interests in maintaining a dual parent conservatorship of your child. This is not only in the best interests of your child but is also in the best interests of the state. The State of Texas does not want to be put into a position where it will be responsible for caring for your child until he or she turns 18. As such, if you want to terminate your parental rights, and your child’s other parent agrees, then you will need to figure out what you can do to convince the judge that doing so is in the child’s best interests. 

When so much of this decision from the judge's perspective is a financial one you may look into whether or not you can place some money in a trust or in a bank account of some sort for the well-being of your child moving forward. Naming your child's other parent as trustee of this trust can shift some of the burdens off of the State of Texas and back onto yourself. You would need to look to the circumstances of your case in particular in order to determine how much money you should consider making available to this child in a trust.

If you are not in a position where you have a large lump sum of money available to you to put into a trust, you can then work with the judge and your child’s other parent on creating an order that requires you to pay the child’s mother child support even after your parental rights are terminated. The biggest question that I would have regarding this type of set-up is how enforceable the agreement may be, considering that there is no parent-child relationship to base the agreement and order on. 

Basing a termination on the grounds contained in the Texas Family Code is straightforward

Finally, if you and your child’s other parent can assign a particular ground for terminating your parental rights to your case, then this may be the most straightforward path to take. If you have abandoned your child, failed to provide for your child, or have abused your child a judge may simply make a decision that it is in your child’s best interests to have your parental rights to him or her terminated. 

As I mentioned earlier, this does not happen very often. The reason for it should be pretty clear- most people do not want a court order in existence that states that he or she is a threat to a child’s well being. Imagine if you have a child in the future and that child’s mother asks a court to terminate your parental rights. Already having an order terminating your rights to another child could sink your chances to maintain parental rights in that particular case. 

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

If you have any questions or are in need of clarification about anything we talked about 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 we can address your questions directly and provide you with information about your case. A consultation can go a long way towards helping you achieve clarity about your circumstances so that you are better able to make decisions about your well being and that of your family. 

We appreciate your spending some time with us today on our blog and we hope that you will join us again tomorrow as we continue to discuss relevant issues in Texas family law. 

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