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Termination of parental rights is a court order that permanently ends the legal parent-child relationship when the parent is found to be unfit. Termination of parental rights is not granted by the courts for parents who mutually agree to terminate their rights to resolve visitation or support issues. When a parents rights are terminated, they can no longer make decisions for the child.

When determining if a parents rights should be terminated, most states require the court to show with clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit, and that severing the parent-child relationship is in the child’s best interests. To qualify for termination of parental rights, it has to be determined that the child cannot safely return home because  of risk of harm by the parent.

Though each state determines their own statutory grounds, there are a few common scenarios that may determine parental unfitness, including:

  • Failure to support and maintain contact with the child
  • Severe and ongoing abuse or neglect
  • Physical or sexual abuse of the child
  • Abuse or neglect of other children in the household
  • Child abandonment
  • Long-term mental illness of the parents
  • Long-term substance abuse by the parent
  • Involuntary termination of rights of the parent to another child
  • Other various circumstances

In California, parental rights can also be terminated if the whereabouts of the parent have been unknown for 6 months, the parent has not visited or attempted to contact the child is 6 months, the parent has been convicted of a felony indicating parental unfitness, or the court has continued to remove the child from the custody of the parent or guardian and has terminated reunification services.

Some situations do not allow parental rights to be terminated, typically if the severing of parental ties is found to be detrimental to the child.

In California, parent rights shall not be terminated if:

  • The child is living with a relative who is unable or unwilling to adopt the child
  • The parents have maintained regular visitation and contact with the child
  • The child is 12 or older and objects to the termination
  • The child is placed in a residential treatment facility, and adoption is unlikely or undesirable
  • There would be substantial interference with a child’s sibling relationship

There are also more specific regulations which protect Indian children and parents and their involvement with their Tribal community.

The court is hesitant to permit termination of parental rights because it is binding and usually permanent. However, there are some situations which allow a reinstatement of parental rights. If a child has not been adopted for 3 years after the parental rights were terminated, and the court has determined that adoption is no longer a permanent plan, the child can petition the court to reinstate parental rights.

For the child to petition the court, the State Department of social Services, county adoption agency, or licensed adoption agency that is responsible for the child must stipulate that the child is not likely to ever be adopted. The court will only grant the petition if they find with clear and convincing evidence that reinstatement of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.