California Family Code section 7820, specifically California Family Code section 78222, provides the basis for which you could seek termination of parental rights.
The family code defines who has the standing to seek parental termination. Our main examples are from the point of view of a biological parent, i.e. one biological parent seeking to terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent, but termination of parental rights is not limited to legal or biological parents only.
People who have the right to seek parental termination include:
One basis upon which termination can occur is if the child has been abandoned. That means the other parent has provided no financial support for that child and has little or no contact with a child for over a year, showing their intent to abandon the child.
If you can meet those elements, then you would be able to convince the court the other parent has abandoned the child and, as such, you could file a petition to terminate their parental rights. This essentially means they are no longer going to be the parent.
Imagine for a moment that it is the mother trying to terminate the father’s parental right. If she succeeds, then the father no longer has the right to legal custody, which is the ability of making decisions on the health, welfare, and safety of the child. Furthermore, the father will no longer have the right to child custody, either. They are effectively cut out from the child’s life.
That is an example of a manner in which you can terminate parental rights within the category of abandonment.
The other basis to parental termination include child neglect; the unfitness of parent; or the risk of serious physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child if they return or remain at the home of either or both parents.
Consider the case of someone who is not the legal parent but who has been caring for the child for a period of time in the absence of the legal parents. To seek termination the child must have been left in their care by the custodial parent or both parents for at least six months and during those six months there has been no contact with the child or financial support from the responsible parties. There will need to be some evidence of intent to abandon the child. That’s an example under which, if you’re not the legal guardian or legal parent of a child, you could seek to become the custodian and terminate the parental rights of the other parent.
Termination of parental rights are often combined with a step-parent adoption. There is a specific procedure by which you would combine the two together where, if you’re doing a step-parent adoption, you would be filing it concurrently with a parental termination proceeding and, if and when the latter is granted by the court, then the step-parent adoption would be completed and the court would make an order for the step parent to become the legal parent of the child.
Parental terminations can also be done by stipulation. What we’ve talked about so far is the process by which people go to court, file a petition, serve the petition/respond to the petition, and then attend a court hearing to determine whether termination should occur.
However, the parent whose rights are being sought to be terminated can stipulate to terminate those rights. That is, they can agree with either a stepparent or the parent responsible for the care of the child, or with the other parent that they give up their parental rights.
Naturally if you’re on the defending side of it, we are going to need to work hard at demonstrating that you did not intend to abandon the child, that you’re stable, that you have the intent to spend time with the child, and that you are going to start providing financial support.
If you are seeking to terminate parental rights, whether you are the other parent or an adult who is currently responsible for the child (such as a grandparent or a relative taking care of child), please call us. We have experience dealing with these matters and bringing them to completion successfully.
In California, termination of parental rights can be voluntary or court-mandated. Parents can volunteer to terminate their parental rights to allow for the child to be adopted, or it can be mandated by the court if the court finds one or both of the parents to be unfit.
Typically, the court will not terminate parental rights unless there is somebody to assume those rights – i.e. the child is going to be adopted.
No – a lack of contact isn’t grounds for terminating parental rights, however, in some cases where there is a stepparent adoption pending, the court may consider this the absent parent to be guilty of child abandonment, and may terminate their rights.
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