Ask the County Law Librarian – Terminating rights of absent parent
Q. My three-year-old son, Mark, is the light of my life. Mark’s father is out of the picture—even though his name is on the birth certificate we agreed shortly after Mark was born that he wouldn’t try to see Mark or anything if I didn’t ask him to pay child support. Sometimes it is really hard being a single mom, but it is totally worth it not to have Mark’s father interfering in our lives. Lately I’ve been thinking, though, that I should make this arrangement “legal.” I’m pretty sure Mark’s father would agree to that. How do I do that? Is there a form we can fill out?
A. Courts do not allow parents to terminate their own rights as a matter of convenience or as a means of solving visitation or support disputes. The state believes that it is in a child’s best interests to have two parents, both obligated to support the child, and as a matter of public policy will not terminate that responsibility, and the rights that go with it, unless another parent is willing to assume the role, as in a step-parent adoption, or a parent is found to be unfit.
There is no fill-in-the blank form for terminating parental rights. A court order permanently severing the legal parent-child relationship can only be made in:
• Juvenile Dependency Court. The child becomes a ward of the court when someone (usually CPS) reports mistreatment. Termination is involuntary when the court finds that the parent(s) have abused, neglected, or abandoned a child, and/or that the parents suffer from some mental or physical incapacity, including substance abuse, that prevents them from caring for the child.
• Family Court Adoption proceedings. Both birth parents may voluntarily terminate their parental rights when relinquishing the child for an agency or independent adoption.
• Family Court Stepparent or Domestic Partner Adoption proceedings. Termination is with the consent of the non-custodial parent, or without their consent if the court finds that the parent has willfully abandoned the child.
• Family Court Parentage actions. The father’s parental rights can be terminated without his consent if the court finds that his continuing relationship is not in the child’s best interest.
• Family Court Emancipation proceedings. A minor at least 14 years old may petition the court to become an adult before the age of 18. This requires written permission from the parent(s) and a court finding that granting emancipation is not contrary to the minor’s best interest. The granting of emancipation terminates parental rights, because the child is legally an adult.
It doesn’t sound like any of these proceedings are applicable in your situation. It may be that, in the future, Mark could benefit from child support payments or even a relationship with his father. And if anything happens to you while Mark is still a minor, his father would become his legal guardian. So the best thing to do right now may be to preserve the amicable relationship – and options – it sounds like you enjoy at present. If you marry and your husband or domestic partner wishes to adopt Mark, it sounds like Mark’s father would consent to terminating his parental rights. If you wish to make arrangements for a guardianship for Mark after your death, it sounds like Mark’s father would be amenable.
If you wish to obtain an order for child support, you can contact the Department of Child Support Services and they will help you establish parentage, obtain a support order, and even enforce it if Mark’s father refuses to pay. Mark’s father can seek custody or visitation at any time regardless of whether he pays child support, but the court will make any custody or visitation orders based on Mark’s best interest, taking into consideration the emotional ties between Mark and his parents (or lack of them).
Visit the Sacramento County Public Law Library’s website for more information on establishing parentage, child support, custody and visitation, the termination of parental rights, guardianship, and stepparent adoption.
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