Can Family Court Force a Mother to Give Up Her Parental Rights & Also Her Visitation Rights?

By Heather Frances J.D.

When you divorce, the court will determine how custody of your children is split between you and your spouse, and the court has authority to remove all parental rights from either parent under provisions in your state’s laws. Generally, the court’s decisions are based on the best interests of your child, which usually involve giving the child a chance to form bonds with both parents.

Physical Vs. Legal Custody

Custody of a child can be divided into physical custody – the day-to-day care of the child – and legal custody – the ability to make important decisions about the child. Most “parental rights” are aspects of legal custody, but a family law court can deny physical custody and visitation as well as legal custody. Laws vary on how this works in each state, but noncustodial parents are not guaranteed visitation.

Best Interests

The family court’s ultimate goal is to determine a custody and visitation plan that is in the best interests of the child, and a court generally finds it in the child’s best interests to have visitation with the noncustodial parent. However, if the custodial parent can provide evidence that visitation is not in the child’s best interests, the court may limit or eliminate visitation. A guardian ad litem or other neutral representative of the child may also bring visitation concerns to the court’s attention.

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Losing Visitation

Visitation is not normally denied unless the noncustodial parent is endangering the child’s physical or emotional health. For example, a family law court could deny visitation because the noncustodial parent was intoxicated during visitation, allowed the child to engage in risky or dangerous behavior or threatened or abused the child during visitation. Short of denying visitation, the court can alter the visitation schedule or require visitation to be supervised when a parent’s conduct interferes with the best interests of the child.

Restoring Visitation

A mother who has been denied visitation may have options to regain visitation rights, such as attending a drug treatment program or parenting classes. Sometimes, the court will suspend visitation until the mother has completed some type of counseling or treatment, and the mother must comply with the court’s instructions to regain visitation. Your state’s laws may give a specific procedure for regaining visitation.

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