Unfortunately, not all family law cases in Texas have happy endings or happy beginnings, for that matter. While we would like to be able to imagine a world where family courts leave people in better positions than when they found them the simple truth is that many people facing family law circumstances do so because of serious problems in the family and misplaced priorities among parents. No matter how tirelessly an attorney works or how to consider it a judge maybe many families firing positions where the results of a case will not be able to heal divisions and fissures in the foundation of the family.
What I am envisioning here is a circumstance involving a parent who would prefer to have their parental rights terminated about a child then to have to pay child support under a court order. You may find yourself in a position where your child's other parent has not been a part of their life but has also not been contributing to the care of that child for some time. Now that you have expressed a desire for him or her to pay child support their response has been to tell you that he or she would prefer to have their parental rights terminated rather than to be made to pay child support. What can you do if you find yourself in a position like this?
After all, this is sort of a catch 22 type situation. On the one hand, by having your child's other parent's parental rights terminated you could eliminate a headache and a hassle for both you and your child if that person were to not have a relationship legally with the child moving forward. Think of all the times you had to stop and consider the other parent's thoughts and feelings on a particular circumstance. Wouldn't it just be easier to be able to bypass that person altogether and instead make decisions based on what you think is right or wrong?
On the other hand, by terminating their parental rights you are concerned that the burden of raising your child will fall squarely on your shoulders and your shoulders alone. Even if your child or their parent is not always physically present or is reliable in any regard it is still nice to know that he or she is available in a pinch if your child were to need transportation or if you were to need a little bit of money here and there to ensure that the household runs smoother. By terminating that parents' parental rights you are illuminating a source of frustration but you are also illuminating a source of future support.
In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I would like to jump into this topic head first and discuss whether or not it is even possible for your child's other parent to have their parental rights terminated in hopes of not having to pay child support. The reality of a situation like this is that judges can typically smell motivation like this from a mile away and it is worth asking the question of whether or not a family court judge would allow apparent like this to avoid responsibility in exchange for having their parental rights terminated.
The reality for a parent trying to terminate their parental rights in hopes of avoiding child support
Many parents who enter into child custody or even a divorce case have goals that are so out of the left field and not based in reality that an attorney has to spend a great deal of time simply talking to him or her about what a reasonable goal or set of goals was to look like. Sometimes you will have a parent who, despite never having been involved in their Childs life before, is convinced that he or she will be able to end up as the parent who has the primary right of determining the child's residence. An attorney knows that this is a recipe for disaster and is unlikely to happen for the parent so the attorney must spend some time talking to the client about what a more reasonable goal may be.
By the same token, every once in a while I will speak to a parent whose stated objective is to have their parental rights terminated rather than to pay child support for their children. Beyond any sort of moral compunction that a parent may or probably should have regarding this type of arrangement the reality is that most family law judges will see through any attempt to avoid child support and to have parental rights terminated as a result. Family court judges are typically unwilling to allow for this type of arrangement to occur.
Not only is there little to no precedent for it in prior Texas family court decisions but it is also not in the best interest of a child in most circumstances to have a parent's rights terminated. It is assumed presumed by courts that a child will benefit from being able to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. Unless there are other factors in play that would show that it is not in the best interest of a child to maintain a relationship with one parent a court is unlikely to terminate appearance parental rights under any circumstances.
Almost certainly, to terminate appearance parental rights for that parent to not have to pay child support goes against common sense and place is a hefty burden on the parent whose parental rights are not terminated. If you as a parent are not able or willing to engage with that child on an emotional or physical level then at the very least you should be made to contribute to their child's upbringing financially. The termination of parental rights does not allow a court to enforce either aspect of this discussion and as a result, almost certainly would not happen in your situation.
Voluntary termination of parental rights in Texas
There are two ways for a parent to have their parental rights terminated in Texas. The first is the involuntary termination. You see this occurring many times in Child Protective Services cases where apparent has been found to have abused or neglected their child. In those circumstances, a parent could be ordered to undergo therapy, counseling, or some other remedial measure in hopes of maintaining parental rights in the future. If that parent works did not follow orders and did not participate in the case then a judge could terminate parental rights if that is a recommendation made by the state of Texas.
The 2nd way to have parental rights terminated in Texas is voluntary. In that case, a parent could volunteer to have their parental rights terminated for any number of reasons. If a family court judge reviews the circumstances of a family and determines that it is in the best interests of a child to have that parent's parental rights terminated then the motion could be granted. You see this in situations involving abuse or neglect or if it is determined by the judge that the parent offers a significant risk of harm to the child's well being in the future by maintaining parental rights and access to the child.
In the circumstances we are discussing today, apparent would be voluntarily requesting that their parental rights be terminated. The ostensible reason for doing so would be to avoid having to pay child support. The Texas family code allows for a parent to file a petition to have his or her parental rights terminated. The termination of parental rights means that your child's other parent would not be able to take advantage of periods of possession or Visitation moving forward. Their obligation to pay child support and contribute to that child's upbringing would also be terminated.
It is difficult for me to imagine a scenario where a family court judge in Texas would allow a parent who is obligated to pay child support to have his or her parental rights terminated without also having an adult in place to step up and adopt the child. Courts like a child, understandably, to have two parents to shoulder the burdens of raising him or her. It is a challenge for any parent to raise a child alone and a court would not want to make a short set of a decision to terminate a parent's parental rights even if he or she is asking to have this be done.
As we talked about earlier, a family court judge would likely not determine that having only one parent to be in that child's best interest. If nothing else, the potential financial support of two parents is likely to be greater than just one. This not only puts a lot of pressure on the remaining parent (in our example, you) but also potentially put pressure on the state of Texas to provide housing, health insurance, and other benefits for the child.
This brings us to the topic of today's blog post. I'm writing about it because I have been asked more than once in my time as a family law attorney whether or not it is possible simply to sign paperwork and to have parental rights terminated as a result. Much more would go into the process given that a lawsuit would need to be filed and a petition included in that lawsuit which requests to have that parents parental rights terminated. In other words, your child's other parent would not simply be able to sign a document, have it notarized and turn it into court for their parental rights to be terminated voluntarily.
A family lawsuit is usually a fairly lengthy process and you would certainly be able to contest the matter and voice your opposition through court hearings and pleadings filed with the judge. Your child's other parent is free to file such a motion, however, but the result would likely be the court declining to terminate their parental rights as long as no parent in waiting exists. Your child's other parent will be better off not going forward with any type of case like this.
From my experience, you see parents who owe a large amount of child support being the most likely to consider Filing motions like this. Consider that if you're exposed where to file a petition to have their parental rights terminated in hopes of having a large child support arrearage erased that the motion would rarely be likely to be granted by a judge. Even if the parent has their parental rights terminated any arrearage owed in child support would still be owed to you. Interest, fees, and other additional expenses would not be added to the total arrearage but the arrearage at the time of the court case would still end up being owed.
What can a parent who owes child support do if they cannot have their parental rights terminated?
Now that we have established that it is not likely that your child another parent will be able to have their child support obligation erased by erasing their parental rights we should discuss what else can be done by your child their parent to deal with any amount of child support that may be owed.
First of all, The Child Support obligation may be able to be reduced if the order goes beyond what is outlined in the Texas family code as far as the amount of payment. Typically, a parent cannot be ordered to pay more than 1/2 of their monthly net income in child support. If your ex-spouse or child's other parent is currently obligated to pay more than this per month then it is certainly possible that the payments owed each month could be reduced by court intervention.
Assuming that a modification case is filed wherein your child's opposing parent asks to have their current obligation of child support reduced then this may also be an option to consider for him or her. For instance, your ex-spouse may truly be in a situation where he or she cannot afford to pay a specific number of child support payments based on a loss and income associated with the pandemic. While you probably would not be willing to eliminate any future obligation the fact is that you can almost always work with the other parent to bring child support into a range that is reasonable based on that parent's circumstances.
Another circumstance that may be worth considering is whether or not you have remarried. If you have remarried and your current spouse is willing and interested in adopting your child Verb you may discuss that option with your child's biological parent. Depending on the circumstances of your family this would be a way to have your child's biological parents' rights terminated while ensuring that your current spouse can enter into a parent-child relationship in a seamless fashion.
What to do if your child of their parent is threatening to have his or her parental rights terminated?
It can be a helpless feeling to find out that your child and their parent is threatening to file a lawsuit to have their parental rights terminated so that child support can be avoided. He or she may be laying the groundwork to negotiate an informal reduction in child support or to do something else that would not necessarily be in your best interest or that of your child. Rather than to respond to these threats you should consider what your options may be to ensure that your child is taken care of now and in the future.
Hopefully reading today's blog post has put you in a position where you know that it is unlikely that he or she would be successful in having their parental rights terminated simply to avoid child support. Having this knowledge that should put you in a more powerful position to negotiate if that is something, you were even interested in doing. The best thing that I can think of to do is to be represented by an attorney if your child or their parent presents you with a circumstance like this.
In a worst-case scenario, I could foresee a situation where your child to their parent threatens to have his or her parental rights terminated up and leave their home and your area if he or she feels threatened by child support arrearages. In that case, it would make sense for you to keep track of that parent the best you can and to ensure that he or she is kept in the loop of any correspondence from the court. People who feel trapped tend to lash out and react in extreme ways. If your child to their parent were to find out that it is unlikely he or she can terminate parental rights as a means to avoid child support then all bets are off for what he or she could do as far as leaving the area and not disclosing their whereabouts.
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 consultation 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 circumstances can be impacted by a divorce or child custody case.