Ask any parent and they will tell you that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. It’s even harder when the standards of being a “good parent” have changed dramatically over the years. Sometimes parents voluntarily terminate their parental rights because they feel it’s best for the child. Other times, parental rights are involuntarily terminated due to the parent being found unfit and it’s in the best interest of the child.
In some cases, a parent may also find themselves the subject of an effort to terminate their rights in spite of their desire to maintain them. In these cases, they must act to retain their parental rights, and ensure that they meet any requirements for doing so.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Parental Rights Defined
- Involuntary Termination Of Rights
- Voluntary Termination Of Rights
- Surrendering Rights For Adoption At Birth
- Parental Rights And Child Support
- Unidentified Or Absent Parents
- Termination Against The Child's Wishes
- Poverty As Legal Grounds
- Alternatives To Termination
- Reinstatement Of Parental Rights
Parental Rights Defined
Parental rights are the duties that a parent has when it comes to deciding major life issues in a child’s life. These decisions are made with the child’s best interest in mind. Parental rights typically consist of:
- Physical possession of the child
- Right to discipline the child
- Right to control and manage the minor child’s earnings
- Right to control and manage the minor child’s property
- Right to be supported by an adult child
- Right to have the child bear the parent’s name and right to prevent adoption of the child without parents’ consent
Beyond these rights, parents are also responsible for such things as providing the child with clothing, shelter, food, healthcare, education, etc. The parents’ failure to meet their responsibilities can result in an involuntary termination of their parental rights.
Grounds For Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
The courts can take away parental rights if it feels it’s in the best interest of the child. When your rights are terminated, it means you are no longer your child’s legal parent. The court may order a termination of the parent-child legal relationship upon the finding by clear and convincing evidence of any one of the following:
- The child has been abandoned by his or her parents.
- The parent has been found to be unfit due to one of the following:
- Emotional illness
- Mental illness
- Mental deficiency of the parent of such duration or nature as to render the parent unlikely within a reasonable time to care for the ongoing physical, mental, and emotional needs and conditions of the child.
- A single incident resulting in serious bodily injury or disfigurement of the child.
- Long-term incarceration of the parent of such duration that the parent is not eligible for parole for at least 6 years after the date the child was determined to be dependent or neglected; or, if the child is under age 6, the parent is not eligible for parole for at least 36 months.
- Serious bodily injury or death of a sibling due to proven parental abuse or neglect.
- An identifiable pattern of habitual abuse, sexual abuse of the child, or pattern of the torture of or extreme cruelty to the child, a sibling of the child, or another child of either parent.
- The parent has not attended visitations with the child as set forth in the treatment plan unless good cause can be shown for failing to visit.
- The parent exhibits the same problems addressed in the treatment plan without adequate improvement.
- The parent is unfit, and the conduct or condition of the parent is unlikely to change within a reasonable time.
Parents should be aware that the courts do not take this process lightly. A great amount of consideration is given before determining that revoking parental rights is the right action to take. Parents who are subject to this are often given many paths to retaining their rights. This includes participation family therapy, attending rehabilitation, parenting classes, and other efforts.
Still, a parent who believes they may be at risk for having their rights terminated should seek the services of a qualified attorney. By doing so, they guarantee they are properly represented, and that they receive the best legal advice possible.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Voluntary termination of parental rights, or relinquishment, can often times be difficult because children have a right to a parental relationship. They have the right to receive care and financial support from both of their parents. Voluntary relinquishment is often done in cases of adoption. The biological parents choose to give up their rights and gives those rights to the new legal adoptive parents.
One situation that comes up quite frequently is that of stepparent adoption. In such cases, one of the biological parents terminates their rights in order for the child’s stepparents to proceed with the legal action required to adopt the child. This can only be done with the consent of both biological parents. There are also additional steps the adoptive stepparent must take in order to complete the adoption. Once the process is done, the stepparent obtains all of the rights and responsibilities of any other parent.
Surrendering Rights For Adoption at Birth
Fathers often want to know whether or not the mother of their unborn child can place that child for adoption without their consent. This is essentially terminating the father’s rights.
The answer to this question depends on the marital status of the parents. If the parents are married, the mother’s husband is automatically presumed to be the father and must provide his permission for the adoption to proceed.
If the parents were not married, this isn’t the case. To be clear, this does not mean that the biological father has no parental rights. It means that he must establish paternity first. Once this is done, he has the right to contest the mother’s decision to surrender the child for adoption. The father can establish himself as parent by taking simple actions such as signing as the father on the child’s birth certificate, or doing a paternity test and signing an acknowledgement of paternity.
If there is no father established, the biological mother may surrender her child to an adoption agency or directly to adoptive parents. She does not need to obtain permission from anyone to do so. If the mother has already lost or relinquished parental rights, she does not need to take any further steps to allow the child to be adopted. This is something the state now has the right to do. This only changes when parental rights have been reinstated (more on that below).
Parental Rights and Child Support
In some cases, a parent may seek to terminate their parental rights in order to relieve themselves of child support obligations. A custodial parent may even support this if they believe that doing so will prevent them from having to engage in a contentious relationship with an ex, or share custody with them.
However, it’s important to note that this is not an acceptable reason under Colorado law to terminate parental rights. If this is given as a reason to terminate parental rights, or the courts suspect it to be the case, the request will be summarily dismissed. People who have issues with child support or visitation should seek other remedies.
Unidentified or Absent Parents
In some cases, the birth mother may not have the identity of the child’s biological father, or they may not have a way to locate them. If this is a case, the rights of the biological father are not automatically terminated. The mother has an obligation to make a reasonable attempt to locate and contact potential fathers, or to provide the courts information so that they may do so.
This might include:
- Giving the courts the name of anyone the mother was married to or cohabiting with at the time of conception.
- Providing the names of any potential fathers.
- Providing the names of anyone who paid or promised to pay support, or who otherwise indicated that they may be the child’s father.
If none of these options are available, a public notice must be published seeking to contact the father, and informing them of the impending termination of their parental rights. In the event that a father does not come forward to claim paternity within 35 days, the courts can proceed with the process to terminate parental rights.
While it is significantly easier to identify a child’s mother, many of the laws that apply to absent fathers also apply to absent mothers. Essentially, if a mother abandons their child and refuses to provide expected care and support, their rights can be terminated as well.
For example, if a parent leaves their children in the care and custody of another for a period of six months or longer, the courts could be persuaded that this is a case of abandonment. If there has been no effort to pay support or to maintain contact, and it appears as if this will remain unchanged in the future, the parent (mother or father) could have their rights terminated.
Termination Against The Child’s Wishes
In Colorado, the law allows for children over the age of 12 to object to their parents losing their rights. If the child is determined to be mature enough and mentally capable of making their preferences known, the courts will not terminate rights against their will.
Poverty as Legal Grounds for Parental Rights Termination
Currently, there are four states where parents may not have their rights revoked if their inability to provide proper care for their children is solely due to poverty. Colorado is not one of these states. Parents who find themselves unable to provide care due to financial strains should seek resources for help, up to and including seeking legal remedies to ensure they are receiving adequate financial support from their child’s other parent. Otherwise, their parental rights may be challenged in court.
Alternatives To Termination
The decision to relinquish parental rights, or to attempt to revoke the rights of a parent is a serious one. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sometimes, parents choose this route out of fear or frustration.
Before taking such drastic action, parents should consider alternatives including:
- Seeking supervised visitation
- Changing visitation orders
- Seeking a reduction or other modification to child support orders
- Undergoing counseling and mediation
- Using the court to settle conflicts when doing so with the other parent isn’t possible
- Complying with orders from social services and other government agencies
- Giving temporary custody or guardianship to another
In all but a few, very rare situations it is almost always beneficial to the child to have some relationship with both of their parents. This is even true when one or both parents has significant issues of their own.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
Colorado is one of the states that allows for the reinstatement of parental rights following termination of these rights. This can happen if permanent placement has not been found for the child within a specified time frame or if the court determines that the parent is now able to provide a safe home for the child. A county social services department or the child's guardian ad litem may file a petition for reinstatement.
If the child has been placed for adoption, either at birth or when they are older, there are very limited procedures that parents can take to rescind that adoption agreement and regain their parental rights. However, it is very important to note that these situations are quite rare. The courts will not entertain these efforts simply because parents have regrets or change their minds.
After an adoption is finalized, the birth parents have 90 days to file a petition to have the consent for adoption revoked. In order to do this successfully, the parents must provide proof that fraud was involved or that the mother relinquished custody under duress.
Giving up parental rights is a big decision. So is the decision to proceed with any attempt to terminate the parental rights of the child’s other parents. Even seeking to reinstate your parental rights is an arduous process that can unintended results. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand what this means to both you and your child.
If the state, or your child’s other parent is attempting to have your rights revoked, it is understandable that you are angry, upset, and confused. However, it is vital that you don’t act rashly. Instead, you need to formulate a plan of action with the help of a lawyer.
No matter what your situation is, our Denver family law attorneys can help you understand the laws in Colorado. Contact us today!