One of the most frequently asked questions of Virginia family law attorneys is how a parent’s parental rights can be terminated. Often times a custodial parent wants to terminate the rights of the noncustodial parent because (s)he is not paying support, has not seen the child in years, and or is not a positive influence in the child’s life. Other times the noncustodial parent wants to terminate their own parental rights in an effort to avoid paying child support. Termination of parental rights is extremely serious. If a parent’s rights are terminated (s)he no longer has any parental responsibility, including financial, and can at no point in the future legally ask to be involved in the child’s life.
In Virginia, the parental rights of one parent can be terminated only if there is a third party, such as a step-parent, willing to step into that parent’s role. Many single parents struggle with hearing this information because they feel as though their hands are tied. They question the logic of a law that allows a parent who is not financially supporting his or her child and is not a good influence to continue to be involved in the child’s life.
The honest answer is that everything comes down to money and finances. Without a third party to legally assume the parental role, the Court would be creating a greater chance of the child becoming an orphan and possibly a ward of the state. If that happens, then the Commonwealth of Virginia would become responsible for financially supporting that child. The Commonwealth does not want to terminate the rights of any parent, unless there is another person to step into that (financial) role, because the Commonwealth wants, if needed, to seek financial support from that parent. Once this is explained, most parents understand the Commonwealth’s position. However, most of these parents state that if something happened to them, a family member would petition the court for custody to avoid the child becoming a ward of the state, which is likely true.
Involuntary termination of parental rights is possible in the rare cases where it is proved by clear and convincing evidence (i) that a parent has been guilty of abuse or neglect that endangered the child’s life and health, and (ii) that it is not reasonably likely that the problem can be resolved so that the child can continue to spend time with both parents. If you believe that your child is being abuse and neglected, you should contact the Department of Social Services and promptly speak with an attorney.
If you are a custodial parent with a third party, such as a new spouse, interested in adopting your child(ren), please read my blog posting on Stepparent Adoption In Virginia for more information.
The family law attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have extensive experience with stepparent adoptions and others cases involving termination of parental rights in Virginia. We represent clients in Manassas, Fredericksburg, Fairfax, and throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.