The right of a parent to care for his or her children is one of the most fundamental rights in the American legal system. Both the criminal and civil courts recognize that parental rights are more important than just about any other type of right or privilege, and a parent’s right to raise a child as he or she sees fit will not be overruled except in the most extreme circumstances.

Even though parental rights are a fundamental part of our society, they are not absolute. In some instances, a parent’s rights to his or her children can be terminated by the court.

Voluntary Termination

Parental rights may be terminated voluntarily. This happens when the parent may not be financially or emotionally able to raise the child, or may simply have no interest in being a parent. This type of termination is also known as a relinquishment.

Almost all relinquishments occur during the course of an adoption. For instance, a teenaged mother may sign a relinquishment of her parental rights before placing her infant up for an open adoption. In other cases, a parent may sign a relinquishment in order to allow a step-parent to adopt the child.

Relinquishment must be approved by the court. While a parent may give up his or her right to raise and care for their child, the court will not allow one parent to escape the obligations of parenthood (such as financial support) just for the asking. In the case of adoption, the parent must sign a document consenting to the adoption, there must be another person or agency ready to accept responsibility of caring for the child, and the court often requires live testimony in court. The court will then issue an order of relinquishment that terminates the legal parent-child relationship.

Involuntary Termination

A parent’s rights to his or her children can be terminated without consent in cases of abuse or neglect. The goal of the family law system is to make sure that the child’s best interests are protected, which can mean terminating the rights of an abusive or neglectful parent.

When a parent has abandoned their child or has committed a serious crime against the child, the court can terminate that person’s rights with little effort to fix the parent’s behavior or the parent/child relationship.

In cases where the parent has not clearly abandoned the child or committed a crime, terminating parental rights is a more involved process. Usually, representatives from Washington’s Child Protective Services or the Department of Social and Health Services will get involved, and will offer to provide the parent with classes, therapy, or other services to help correct any abusive or neglectful behaviors.

If the parent refuses these services, or if it is clear that the problem parenting behaviors cannot be corrected, the judge may decide to terminate a person’s parental rights involuntarily. However, this decision is not made lightly, and it must be clear beyond a reasonable doubt that continuing the parent-child relationship will be harmful to the child’s wellbeing.

Help for Parents

If your child’s parent is abusive or neglectful, you need experienced legal help. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys understand what types of behaviors the courts find unacceptable, and can help you come up with a plan to protect your children.

To schedule your initial consultation with Pacific Northwest Family Law, or to learn more about how the termination process works, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.