Parental Rights Terminated Due to Child Abandonment

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Parental Rights Terminated Due to Child Abandonment

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Biological and adoptive parents who don't fulfill their responsibilities can have their rights terminated, which is a legal action with significant consequences that is difficult to undo. One of the most common reasons for termination of parental rights is abandonment.

Woman holding baby using finger to open the blinds as she looks out the window

Termination of Rights

These are the rights of a biological and/or adoptive parent to raise, spend time with, and make decisions for their child such as where they will attend school and what religion they will be raised in. These rights come with responsibilities, including duties to provide food, clothing, care for health concerns, and a safe home. When someone fails to live up to their responsibilities, they can have their rights involuntarily terminated by the courts.

This is not the same thing as having limited custody after a divorce, which simply means less or supervised visitation. Termination of rights, however, is a complete legal separation of the relationship between the parties. After complete, the parent is no longer legally recognized thereby severing their right to have any input or inheritance rights.

State laws provide rules, regulations, and grounds for the process. Since it causes such a significant outcome, courts will generally use it as a last resort. Typically, reasons to request this include the following:

  • Serious risk to the child if they remain with the parent
  • Sexual assault
  • Unresolved drug or alcohol abuse
  • Mental illness that prevents the parent from caring for them
  • Child abandonment

In extremely limited circumstances, someone who has had their rights taken away can apply for and have them reinstated. State laws on restoration of rights vary greatly. Many states do not allow it unless the original termination was based on some type of fraud or duress.

Child Abandonment

This is a common ground for involuntary termination of parental rights. The exact definition varies by state. For example, in Florida, abandonment occurs when someone has not significantly contributed or developed a relationship with their child. In Minnesota, in contrast, it occurs if no contact or effort to make contact has been made for six months unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Even though the exact laws vary, the general theme is the same: it occurs when someone voluntarily and without excuse fails to have any interaction with or involvement in the child's life for a significant amount of time. This includes actions such as leaving an infant at a fire station, leaving a toddler home alone for days, and not making any attempt to contact the child for months are commonly considered abandonment. It does not rise to this level, however, if there is a valid reason for their absence such as the parent being deployed or in the intensive care unit of a hospital.

To avoid having your rights terminated, maintain a healthy, consistent, and involved relationship with your child. Ensure that you and the other parent are in agreement as to a custody order, as well as upbringing to avoid legal implications that might arise if you fail to be there for your loved ones.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.