Terminating Parental Rights of an Absent parent

Clients often come to us asking for advice on whether they should try to terminate parental rights of their child’s other parent.  In some of these cases, the biological parent has been literally absent for years, not paying support and not seeking visitation.
Each state has specific laws regarding how parental rights may be terminated.  This article pertains to the law in Texas.
Parental rights may be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. When voluntary, the parent whose rights are being terminated will consent to the termination, and file the proper paperwork or appear in court.  If involuntary, the person contests the termination of his or her rights, and the judge will make the final decision.
If you are a parent who is thinking about seeking termination of an absent parent’s rights, here are some things you should know;
1. The courts will be protective of the rights of all the parties. You may know that he/she has been a terrible parent, but you will have to prove it.  You should gather any evidence that you have. People are often shocked to discover that they have to go through several legal steps and have solid, specific proof to terminate a “deadbeat” parents rights.
2. The court may appoint an attorney to represent your child.  Often called an “attorney ad litem”, this attorney will gather facts, interview involved parties and witnesses, appear at hearings, and make recommendations as to the “best interest of the child”.
3.  Another attorney may be appointed to represent an absent or unknown parent.
4.  You will have to reveal where the other party is; or reveal his/her last known location. You, your attorney, or another attorney connected to the case will have to contact, or make best efforts to find that person. If there has been a long period of time with no communication, you should consider what might happen when communication is resumed.  (this is especially important if the other parent may be violent).
5. The court will require that a home study be performed by a qualified person, in order to gather information about the parties and their environment.
6. When budgeting for the case, you should consider the costs of the attorneys ad litem and home study. As the person filing the suit (“petitioner”) you will usually pay these fees.  (some counties have “Family Services” departments which perform the home studies and the fees are on a “sliding scale” based on income).
There are times when the “best interest of the child” requires that the parental rights of a biological parent be terminated.   Although the procedure is an emotional one, it can be an important step to building a healthy family and moving towards the future.
If you believe that this may be right for your family, the first step is to consult with a knowledgable attorney who practices family law and is familiar with Texas law involving termination of parental rights (or the law of your state).
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