Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
Voluntary termination of parental rights in Texas is when one parent has agreed to the termination of their rights (involving their child) and follows all the necessary steps to do so, including testifying in a Texas court that they are voluntarily giving up their parental rights, and satisfying a number of statutory grounds (legal requirements) for termination. Voluntary termination of parental rights in Texas is a complicated process in which both parents must present clear and convincing evidence as well as prove that the termination is in the best interest of the child. It is not often that the Texas court grants a voluntary termination of parental rights; the most common reason for the court to do so is to pave the way for an adoption where there are two parents able to support the child.
A parent seeking to terminate parental rights in Texas must demonstrate that their conduct satisfies the statutory grounds for termination, a feat not easily achieved for someone simply looking to avoid child support, a common threat made by obligors (the person paying child support).
As discussed in our last post, "Can a father terminate his parental rights in Texas?", parental rights cannot be terminated easily, as the statutory grounds for termination* are serious, and include the following actions which must be proved in court:
Voluntarily leaves the child alone or in the possession of someone who isn’t their parent and expresses an intent not to return;
Voluntarily leaves the child alone or in the possession of someone who isn’t their parent, does not express an intent to return, does not support the child, and stays away for at least three months;
Voluntarily leaves the child alone or with another person and does not support the child for at least six months;
Knowingly places or leaves the child in circumstances that endanger the child;
Engages in conduct or puts the child with people who engage in conduct that endanger the child;
Fails to support the child for a period of one year;
Abandons the child without identification, so long as the child’s identity cannot be reasonably ascertained;
Voluntarily abandoned the mother while she was pregnant with the child if the father knew the mother was pregnant;
Refuses to submit to an order of the Court under Subchapter D (which is about the abuse or neglect of a child);
Been a major cause of the child not being enrolled in school or the child not being home with a guardian of the child for a substantial period of time without the intent to return;
Executed an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights;
Been convicted or put on community supervision for being criminally responsible for the death or serious bodily injury of a child;
Abandoned the child when the child is in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services;
Failed to follow a Court Order which provides for the actions necessary to obtain the return of the child when the child is in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services for at least nine months when the child was placed with DFPS because of the abuse or neglect of the child;
Used a controlled substance in a manner that endangered the child and failed to finish a Court-Ordered treatment program or, after completing the program, continued to abuse substances;
Knowingly engaged in criminal conduct that resulted in that parent’s conviction and incarceration for at least two years;
Been the cause of the child being born addicted to an illegal substance;
Voluntarily delivered the child to a designated emergency infant care provider without expressing an intent to return (this falls under Section 262.302, which allows for a parent to drop off a child to an emergency infant care provider so that the child may be cared for and placed for adoption);
Been convicted of:
Murder of the other parent
The attempted murder of the other parent
Tried to hire someone to kill the other parent
In addition, and by far the most important factor, is that the parent seeking the termination of parental rights in Texas must prove that it is in the best interest of the child to do so.
Factors that are taken into consideration include (but are not limited to):
the child’s desire,
the child’s past, present, and future emotional and physical needs,
the present and future emotional and physical danger posed to the child,
the parenting abilities of the person seeking custody,
the plans for the child by those seeking custody,
the stability of the proposed home or placement,
and any acts or omissions by the prospective parent.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
There are numerous types of parental behavior that can result in the involuntary termination of parental rights in Texas, but some of the most common reasons include:
Abuse or neglect.
Being criminally responsible for the death or serious injury to a child.
Placing a child in an environment that mentally or physically endangers the child.
Refusal to support the child.
While the list above is not exhaustive (the Texas Family Code provides a more thorough and detailed list of statutory requirements), they are the most common. Often, the Texas Department of Child services is contacted first. They then conduct an investigation and, if warranted, will file a case to terminate parental rights. However, a parent may initiate a case by going to the court clerk and filing out the petition to terminate rights or by consulting an attorney.
Termination of parental rights in Texas is a very complex and serious process. It is sometimes referred to as a “civil death penalty” as once rights are terminated, they can never be reinstated. We urge you to consult with a lawyer prior to initiating a termination case or if you have received papers for involuntary termination. The Dallas family law attorneys at Martin Oostdyk would welcome an opportunity to hear about your unique situation and encourage you to schedule a free consultation by clicking below or calling our office at (469) 414-9999.
*It is important to note that in September of 2021, the Texas State Legislature passed a bill that prevents the state from using a prior termination of parental rights as grounds to sever ties with a subsequent child.