People have different feelings about divorce. Some may dread it, some may feel a sense of relief. But no matter how someone feels about getting divorced, there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on: No one wants to lose their children. The good news is, courts are very reluctant to sever the parent-child relationship, and it is not done easily. But if you are not careful, it CAN happen. So today’s blog will explore grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. We’ll also discuss how you can make sure this never becomes a threat to YOUR parent-child relationship.
What Are the Different Types of Custody in Texas?
Let’s start with a brief explanation of some important legal terms. You probably have heard the word “custody” many times. But Texas courts don’t use this term; instead, they use the word “conservatorship.” The State has three forms of conservatorship, each of which pertains to parental rights.
Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC). This means both parents have equal authority to make important decisions regarding the well-being of the children. For example, they have equal say in making decisions about the children’s education, medical care, and religious activity.
Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC). In this arrangement, the court grants only one parent the right to make important decisions regarding the child. In addition, the court typically gives this parent sole physical custody as well.
Possessory Conservator. If the court has named one parent sole managing conservator, the other parent may be named possessory conservator. A possessory conservator has the right to spend time with the child. This person does not have the right to make critical decisions on the child’s behalf.
How Does the Court Decide Who Gets Custody?
The Texas Family Code requires courts to make custody decisions based upon the best interest of the child. Ideally, children are better off when both parents are equally involved in their lives. Therefore, a judge usually is very reluctant to declare involuntary termination of parental rights.
Two other important things to know. First, if the court decides on a joint managing conservatorship, this does not necessarily mean the parents will share equal time with the child or children.
Also, in extreme cases, the court may name a grandparent or other adult as the sole managing conservator. In this case, the judge probably will name both biological parents as possessory conservators.
What Are the Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Texas?
A court may make this ruling for a wide variety of reasons. But here are four common reasons why you may lose custody of your children.
1. Domestic violence or abuse. This means you have been found guilty of committing violence against your spouse, your children, or someone in your family. Note that it is not enough for your spouse to simply accuse you of having been abusive.
2: Neglect. A parent who fails to meet the basic needs of the children has committed neglect. Note that a finding of neglect usually involves a pattern of behavior. For example, the court does not consider it neglect if you forgot to pick up the kids after baseball practice one time. The judge will look for repeated examples where the parent failed to meet the physical, emotional, or financial needs of the child.
3. Abandonment. Someone who knowingly and willfully abandons a child may be guilty of abandonment. Note that abandonment can occur even if you leave your child in the possession of someone else.
4. Endangerment. If you knowingly and willfully place your children in a situation that puts them at physical or emotional risk, you may be found guilty of endangerment.
Are There More Reasons for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Texas?
As we mentioned, those are just some of the key reasons. The court may severe your rights for other reasons as well. These include being found guilty of criminal conduct, become incarcerated, or are determined to be an “unfit” parent. As you might guess, if you have a drug or alcohol problem, you definitely are putting yourself at risk.
Another important factor: You also could lose your rights if you knowingly and willfully violate a court order. For example, you cannot take the kids on vacation when they are supposed to be with your ex. Or perhaps you consistently keep possession of the kids “an extra day or two.”
These actions are a violation of the court’s orders. If you repeatedly violate the court orders, or the violation is serious enough, the judge may order a modification of court orders. The judge may also rule to terminate your parental rights.
Can My Ex Terminate My Parental Rights?
Strictly speaking, no—only the court can do that. However, your ex can use the legal system to begin the process. For example, some parents try to “turn” their children away from their ex. Or perhaps your ex suspects you of alcoholism or criminal behavior. The other party can request an investigation. This request may include a petition to have the court terminate your rights.
In short, your ex cannot take away your kids—but he or she can play a pivotal role in beginning the process that results in you losing your parental rights. Read our blog How to File for Child Custody in Texas.
Can a Parent Request Relinquishment of Parental Rights in Texas?
Yes. There are two ways you can request termination of parental rights. The parent can sign an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment. This document states that the parent agrees that the court should terminate his or her parental rights to a child.
The parent also can sign an affidavit of waiver of interest. This document states that the parent agrees to give up any interest he has in the child, who may not yet be born.
However, neither of these forms officially concludes voluntary termination of parental rights. The State does not terminate parental rights until a judge signs the court order. Read our blog Can You Relinquish Custody of a Biological Child.
What Is the Process for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?
The State of Texas calls a case to terminate parental rights a “Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.” (They also call it a SAPCR). If the case involves a claim of abuse, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services will probably conduct an investigation.
However, you should also keep in mind that just because the court is considering terminating parental rights, it does not mean you are automatically going to lose custody. To make this ruling, the judge will require “clear and convincing evidence.” And as we have noted, the judge will also need to determine that termination of the rights is in the best interest of the child.
Terminating parental rights is a very serious matter. You may lose the right to visit with your child; you may even lose the right to have any contact at all. If you are facing the prospect of having your parental rights terminated, we encourage you to hire an attorney. Remember: Parental rights can be terminated only by court order.
Attorneys Who Know How to Fight to Prevent Termination of Parental Rights
The attorneys of the Maynard Law Firm bring experience and compassion to each case. With two offices in Tarrant County, we can advise you on the best course for all your family law issues.
For over twenty years we have professionally handled divorces, as well as cases involving custody, child support, and court order modifications. We offer a no-cost initial consultation. Don’t let the stress and complexity of divorce and custody issues overwhelm you – contact us today at 817-335-9600.