Termination of Parental Rights

Parental Rights: What does it mean to have them terminated and is there a difference between the State terminating parental rights and a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights?

First, lets talk about what parental rights are. Parental rights are what is bestowed on a parent to be able to take care of the health, education and welfare of their child. It’s a legal term that is recognized by the State. Obviously, “being a parent” biologically can never be severed, but legally, the rights of a parent can be severed either voluntarily or involuntarily.

In Oklahoma there are only two types of cases that a parent can lose their parental rights: through an adoption case or through a deprived case. A parent cannot lose their rights or “give up” their rights through a family law case ie. Divorce or Paternity case. We get calls frequently asking how someone can either make the other parent give up their rights or how they themselves can give up their rights and we have to explain to them that only through those two types of actions is this possible; deprived or adoption.

The only way an adoption can take place is if the biological parent’s rights are terminated. Whether it’s a step-parent adoption, grandparent adoption or a “stranger adoption” – the only way someone else can take over being the parent to a child permanently is for the biological parent’s rights to be terminated, both the mother and the father unless it’s a step-parent adoption. Even if the father is unknown, there is a process to terminate an “unknown father” to take care of this situation. Believe me, that tool is used more often than you realize!

A deprived case is when the State has removed a child or children from the home because of some type of deprivation; ie neglect, abuse… If this is done, then either initially, or through the process of the case, the State can make the determination that its in the best interest of the child(ren) to terminate the parent’s rights to give the child permanence in some other type of situation. Not all deprived cases resolve with a severing of the parental rights, but it is one resolution that is used if the case can not be resolved any other way.

Parental rights can be terminated voluntarily through documents being signed and a hearing with the court. They can also be terminated involuntarily. If the court is seeking to terminate rights in a deprived action and the parents aren’t willing to do it voluntarily, then they are entitled to a jury trial. If parents aren’t willing to voluntarily terminate their rights in an adoption hearing, then the parent is entitled to an Adoption without Consent hearing and depending on the result of that hearing, the parent can also request a Best Interest hearing.

It makes a difference in a deprived case if the parent voluntarily relinquishes their rights as opposed to the State terminating their rights, primarily regarding any future children. If a parent voluntarily relinquishes their rights in a deprived action, if they have any children after this event, the State may look into the parent’s living situation and see if it is in the best interest for this child to remain with the parents. If they do an investigation and find the home is fit and the reasons for the prior State involvement has been corrected, then the State can choose to leave the children in the home and not open a deprived case against the parents.

If the State terminates a parent’s rights meaning the termination isn’t done voluntarily, and the parents have a child after this event, the State can open an investigation and remove this child, based solely on the prior termination, even if the home is fit. The ramifications of an involuntary termination of parental rights can be severe. It can mean that you are never able to be a parent. It can also mean that if you get with another person who has children and something happens to alert the State to you and this other parent – that other parent may have to make the decision to either be with you or be with their children, and not both.

Having a child is a very serious task to undertake and parental rights, those rights that enable a parent to do all the things for the child the parent needs to be able to do are of utmost importance. Unfortunately, not every parent is cut out to “raise a child” and if that is the case, knowing there are options and what the results of those options are, can make going through the process of dealing with those parental rights might make this process easier.