A parent can lose his or her parental rights either voluntarily or involuntarily. However, voluntary termination of parental rights is more difficult to secure and is only possible under certain circumstances. The underlying reason for this is children’s constitutional right to a parent-child relationship, upheld by California courts, and a parent voluntarily relinquishing his or her parental rights without just cause would deprive the child of that right.
How to Voluntarily Relinquish Parental Rights
California courts only allow parents to terminate their parental rights voluntarily under specific circumstances. Generally, it is only possible to give up parental rights for the purposes of adoption. For example, if a single parent feels that he or she cannot properly care for a child and adoption would be in the child’s best interest, then the court may see this as a move toward the best interests of the child. Another example could be a biological parent surrendering his or her parental rights to allow the other biological parent’s new spouse to formally adopt the child.
If a parent wishes to voluntarily relinquish parental rights for the purposes of adoption, there is a very clear process in place that requires all parties involved to provide the court with adequate notice. If one parent will retain custody and the custodial parent’s new spouse or partner legally adopts the child, the court will need to perform a review process to ensure the adoption is in the child’s best interests. It is also possible for a parent to relinquish parental rights by refusing to respond to a request for termination of parental rights and/or signing a relinquishment of parental rights form.
Involuntary Loss of Parental Rights
Several circumstances may lead to a parent involuntarily losing parental rights. Typically, the qualifying conditions include abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the child. California Child Protective Services investigates claims of child abuse and neglect to protect children from unfit parents. Several reasons could lead to a parent losing his or her parental rights:
- Abandonment, if there is another parent able to provide parental support to the child – this alone is not typically enough to justify the involuntary loss of parental rights because someone else must be able to assume parental rights over the child.
- Physical abuse or sexual abuse of the child.
- Long-term mental illness or mental incapacity.
- Long-term substance abuse.
- The commission of a felony offense.
- No access to the child due to an extended prison sentence.
Restoring Parental Rights
It is very difficult to restore parental rights after voluntary or involuntary loss of parental rights. California law does not actually allow a parent who has lost his or her parental rights to petition for restoration of those rights. Instead, the child can petition the court by informing his or her social worker or foster parents of his or her desire to re-engage with the parent who lost his or her parental rights. However, there is typically no way to restore parental rights following an adoption.
How an Attorney Can Help
A family law attorney can help parents and children address parental rights issues. If a parent involuntarily lost his or her parental rights and wishes to restore them, an attorney can help navigate the petition process and build a strong case to prove that the petitioning parent is fit to resume parental responsibilities. In cases of contested parental rights, an attorney can help clear the air by working with court officials and investigators to positively determine appropriate parental rights and obligations. Ultimately, anyone with any concerns about his or her parental rights and the loss of those rights should speak with an attorney as soon as possible.