Child custody is one of the most emotionally charged issues anyone could confront in the family court system. When it comes to parental rights and responsibilities, the family court system of Topeka, KS, upholds that every child deserves equal support from both their parents insofar as both parents are fit and able to provide for their children. However, a parent can lose their parental rights under certain conditions. Some parents may relinquish their parental rights voluntarily in some situations, while others could lose their parental rights involuntarily due to bad behavior. It’s vital for every parent in Topeka, KS, to understand how parental rights can be lost and what happens once they are.

Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

A parent cannot simply opt out of their parental responsibilities just because they do not want to shoulder those responsibilities or be involved in their child’s life. The only way a parent can voluntarily terminate their parental rights and responsibilities is if the child’s other parent remarries a stepparent who is willing to adopt the child and assume full parental rights and responsibilities. The adoptive parent must obtain required clearances, submit to a court-ordered home review, and the biological parent they are functionally replacing must voluntarily relinquish their parental rights.

Adoption is a relatively straightforward process in Kansas, and an adopted child will enjoy the same legal protections and rights as a biological child once the adoption process is complete. When a biological custodial parent remarries a stepparent who is willing to adopt their child, and the child’s other biological parent is willing to surrender their parental rights, the court will arrange for adoption proceedings. Typically, this process involves a court-appointed inspector who will assess the child’s intended adoptive home and the ability of their custodial biological parent and their intended adoptive parent to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child.

Suppose a biological parent wishes to voluntarily surrender their parental rights and responsibilities. In that case, they are still accountable to any preexisting custody and support orders in effect until the adoption process completes. This means that if you are required to pay child support to your child’s biological custodial parent, you must continue to make support payments until the adoption process is finalized and you have successfully terminated your parental rights. Remember that once this is done, it is virtually impossible to reverse; very few states uphold legal provisions for overturning or contesting adoptions, and doing so is likely only to be possible under extreme circumstances. Therefore, if you voluntarily relinquish your parental rights, remember that this decision is functionally permanent.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

It is also possible for a parent to have their parental rights terminated against their will due to bad behavior. Criminal activity, domestic violence, and child abuse are just a few of the reasons the Topeka, KS, family court system may cite as justification for involuntary termination of a biological parent’s parental rights. However, it is essential to understand that involuntary termination of parental rights does not necessarily cancel parental responsibilities. It is possible and typically more common for a parent to lose their parental rights due to bad behavior but still have parental responsibilities, namely child support.

The Topeka, KS, family court will involuntarily terminate a biological parent’s custody and visitation rights if the court deems the parent is unfit or unsafe to be near the child in question. For example, if the parent had limited custody but neglected the child while they were in their care or abused the child in any way, this can be sufficient for the child’s other parent to demand termination of their parental rights in family court.

It is also possible for a parent to lose their parental rights as part of sentencing in a criminal case. For example, a parent with limited custody rights is convicted of child abuse of another child, such as a stepchild or the child of their domestic partner. Suppose they had custody or visitation rights over a biological child. In that case, the judge overseeing their criminal case might decide that they are unfit to maintain any parental rights and strip them from the defendant.

Once parental rights are involuntarily terminated, it is doubtful that the parent will ever be able to reclaim any measure of those rights except under very specific circumstances. For example, if a parent lost their custody and visitation rights due to an advanced substance abuse disorder, they could potentially make a case for limited visitation in the future once they achieve sobriety and maintain a clean lifestyle for an extended time. This would require the child’s biological custodial parent’s consent, and the court would carefully monitor the situation to ensure the parent’s limited visitation would not pose any threat to the child. Additionally, if the child does not wish to have contact with a parent who has had their parental rights involuntarily terminated by the court, they can make a compelling case as to why the court may deny the parent’s petition outright.

Losing Parental Rights Due to Relocation

In some situations, a parent who only has limited visitation rights to their biological child could lose their ability to have regular contact with their child if the child’s custodial parent decides to relocate. Relocation is a very contentious issue in the Topeka, KS, family court system. Suppose a parent wishes to relocate a significant distance that would make the other parent’s current visitation schedule untenable. In that case, the non-relocating parent must make a very compelling case as to why the relocation does not suit the child’s best interests.

Ultimately, any changes to a custody order require the approval of a Topeka, KS, family court judge. The court has a legal obligation to ensure that a custody order serves the best interests of the children the order affects, and this obligation extends to proposed changes to a custody order. Therefore, if you are concerned about losing your parental rights, or if you believe your child’s other parent poses any danger to your child and think they deserve to have their parental rights terminated, it’s vital to contact an experienced Topeka, KS, family law attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.