“When Can Parental Rights Be Terminated In A Family Law Case?”

An unfortunately common situation arises when one parent has not been present in a minor’s life for a long period of time, and the custodial parent wishes to terminate parental rights. There can be good reasons for doing this, such as the stability of the minor who deserves better than to have a parent coming in and out of their life at random times, or criminal behavior of the other parent that has affected the minor. This blog does not discuss termination of parental rights in juvenile court proceedings or in guardianship cases, both of which have their own separate rules.
In the most common case, a parent simply disappears from a child’s life at an early age and fails to establish a relationship with the minor. Parental rights can be terminated if the following can be shows:

*A failure to support the minor for a minimum of one year
*A failure to communicate with the minor for a minimum of one year
*The intent to abandon the child.

While these elements must be shown by clear and convincing evidence, there is a presumption that failure to support and communicate indicates the intent to abandon the child. In essence, if you can prove by clear and convincing evidence that there has been no support or communication, then the intent to abandon will be inferred unless the other parent can show good evidence that there WAS no intent to abandon the child.

This brings us to one of the biggest fights in these cases: the other parent will often allege that they were prevented from seeing the minor by the custodial parent. Oftentimes there has to be evidence presented of communications and attempts to see the minor. In addition, if the parent has only made “token” efforts, these will be disregarded. An actual attempt to see and support the minor must be shown.

There are several other considerations to keep in mind in termination actions:

1. They take time. The court has to do a thorough investigation and provide due process to the other parent.
2. The court will appoint an attorney to represent the other parent, as well as an attorney to represent the interests of the minor.
3. Family Court Services will prepare a report for the court with a recommendation whether or not the termination would be in the best interests of the child. This will often depend on the strength of the relationship (if any) between the other parent and the minor.
4. If the child has any Indian ancestry, this must be disclosed to the court at the outset, as they tribe involved may choose to participate in the process. If this is not done correctly, the termination can later be overturned.
5. If successful, the termination will relieve the other parent of the duty to pay child support.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.

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