Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
The termination of parental rights is a legal action with profound and lasting consequences. It not only strips a parent of their right to custody and visitation but also absolves them of responsibilities such as child support. The parent loses the ability to make decisions regarding the child's upbringing, including their education, health care, and religious instruction. It is a complete and final severing of the legal relationship between parent and child, and it is irreversible.
Grounds for Termination in TX
The decision to terminate parental rights is not one taken lightly in the state of Texas. Grounds for such a drastic measure include a range of situations that fundamentally affect the well-being of the child.
Abuse, neglect, and abandonment are among the most serious accusations that can lead to termination. As defined by Texas Family Code § 161.001, abandonment can include voluntarily leaving a child alone or with another party without having expressed intent to return, providing support for the child, or remaining away for at least three months.
A parent's consistent failure to support their child financially or maintain contact can also lead to the severing of legal ties. Other legal grounds for termination include:
- Allowing or placing the child to live in conditions or an environment that endangers the child’s physical and emotional safety.
- Being convicted of or placed on community supervision for being criminally responsible for the injury or death of a child (i.e. facing conviction or deferred adjudication for murder, capital murder, manslaughter, indecency with a child, assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, child abandonment, injury to a child, sexual performance by a child, prohibited sexual conduct, continuous sexual abuse of a young child, trafficking of persons, or compelling prostitution charges involving a minor).
- Being convicted of the murder of the child’s other parent, criminal attempt to murder the child’s other parent, criminal solicitation for the murder of the child’s other parent, the sexual assault of the child’s other parent, criminal solicitation of a minor, or online solicitation of a minor.
- Being imprisoned for at least two years at the time of filing.
- Failing to adhere to court orders that outlined the steps necessary to have the child returned to the parent’s custody.
- Failing to enroll a child in school.
- Failing to support the child for a period of one year ending within six months of the filing of a termination SAPCR.
- Having caused the child to be born addicted to alcohol and controlled substances (outside of those controlled substances obtained with a legally valid prescription).
- Having had a previous parent-child relationship terminated after having endangered the child’s physical or emotional well-being because of their conduct or living environment.
- Having left the child with the Department of Family and Protective Services for at least six months and the department has made reasonable efforts to return the child, the parent has failed to visit or remain in contact with the child, and the parent has shown they cannot provide reasonable care for the child.
- Leaving a child at a designated emergency infant care center voluntarily without expressing intent to return for the child.
- Using controlled substances in a way that endangers the child’s safety and failing to complete a court-mandated drug treatment program or continuing to abuse drugs after completing such a program.
Involuntary vs. Voluntary Termination
Involuntary termination of parental rights is a legal action typically initiated by the state when there is evidence that a child is in danger or has been abandoned. This process is often the result of investigations by child protective services and can culminate in a court ruling against the parent, effectively severing their legal rights and responsibilities toward the child.
In contrast, voluntary termination occurs when a parent willingly relinquishes their rights, often in the context of adoption. In these cases, a parent may consent to termination, recognizing that it is in the best interest of the child to be placed with another family or guardian who can provide a stable and nurturing environment.
The distinction between involuntary and voluntary termination is crucial because it speaks to the intentions and circumstances surrounding the loss of parental rights. While involuntary termination is often associated with the protection of the child from harm or neglect, voluntary termination is typically associated with the parent's desire to give their child a better life. In both scenarios, however, the ultimate goal is to ensure the child's safety and well-being, and the legal system in Texas is designed to prioritize these outcomes above all else.
How Parental Rights Are Terminated in TX
Either biological parent of a child can file to have their parental rights terminated. The following parties are also legally allowed to file for a termination of parental rights:
- A prospective adoptive parent with standing under a statement to confer.
- The child’s grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew if both parents are dead, both parents, a surviving parent, or a conservator agree, or the child’s present circumstances are not conducive for their physical or emotional health, development, or stability.
- A person who has had actual care or possession of the child for at least six months (with that period ending no more than 90 days before the filing date) and who is not a foster parent.
- A person who has been assigned as the managing conservator of the child in a relinquishment affidavit or who has been given written consent to adopt the child.
- A foster parent whom the child has been placed with for at least a year.
- A licensed child-placing agency.
- A governmental entity.
- A child filing a lawsuit through a legal representative (i.e. an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem).
- The guardian of the child’s estate or the child themselves.
Following the initiation of the termination process (voluntarily or involuntarily), notice will need to be served to the other parent or both parents. A court hearing/case will then ensue. During this hearing, a judge will consider the grounds on which the termination has been filed, the evidence to support those grounds, the best interest of the child, and other relevant case details before signing an order.
Child's Best Interest & Guardian Ad Litem
In termination proceedings, the paramount consideration is the child's best interest. Texas courts take this standard seriously, evaluating a multitude of factors to determine what will most positively impact the child's life. This often involves assessing the child's emotional and physical needs, the stability of the home environment, and the parent's ability to meet those needs.
In most cases, a guardian ad litem may be appointed to represent the child's interests in court, especially in private termination cases. This individual, often an attorney or a trained advocate, provides an independent assessment of what outcome would best serve the child and may make recommendations to the court accordingly.
The guardian ad litem serves as a voice for the child, ensuring that their rights and needs are not overshadowed by the legal battle between adults. They conduct their own investigation, which may include interviews with the child, parents, and other relevant parties, and present their findings to the court. Their role is crucial in helping the judge make an informed decision that truly reflects the best interest of the child, which is the cornerstone of any termination proceeding.
Adoption & Permanent Managing Conservatorship
Following the termination of parental rights, a child becomes eligible for adoption, opening the door to a new chapter in their life. Adoption allows a child to become a legal member of another family, providing them with the stability, love, and support they need to thrive.
In cases where adoption is not immediately possible, the court may assign a permanent managing conservatorship. This arrangement grants custody to a relative or another responsible adult, ensuring the child has a safe and stable home environment.
Talk with Our Team
At The Clark Law Firm, we offer counsel in adoption and termination cases. Discuss your case with a member of our team by scheduling a consultation. Call (817) 435-4970.