U.S. courts can, in extreme cases, sever a parent’s relationship to a child. No judge wants to, but sometimes it’s necessary. Legally speaking, this means the parent is no longer under any obligation to raise, protect, or provide for the child. Thus, no more child support, and no more visits.

It also means the parent has no right to see or visit the child, ever again. This is not the first choice of any judge – far better to order an arrangement that will allow for structured visits. No court wants to do this if it doesn’t have to.

If the situation is bad enough, however, courts can and do terminate the parental rights of fathers and mothers. It’s not done as punishment to the parents, but to protect the best interests of the child. That, and only that, is the court’s real priority.

Should I Be Concerned?

If you’re worried about the termination of your parental rights, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is simple – this sort of court order is saved for cases of severe neglect, drug abuse, or a severe mental illness. If this isn’t true in your case, breathe easy. You might have to fight for a better custody arrangement, but not for the right to remain a parent.

The bad news? If you are in danger of having your parental rights terminated, you’re going to need to do a whole lot to convince a judge you’ve changed. You’ll have to do this to a judge that has, in all likelihood, heard this story before, day after day, from people who never change.

It means you have a lot of work to do.

mother and daughter walking

Are My Parental Rights in Danger?

As we said, terminating someone’s parental rights is a last resort for the courts. Taking away these rights without very good reason is a violation of the Constitution itself. Judges take these cases very, very seriously.

There are 7 general situations in which a court will terminate parental rights.

1. Extreme and Repeated Abuse and Neglect

2. Where Other Children are Abused and Neglected

3. Sexual Abuse

4. Drug or Alcohol Abuse

5. Severe Mental Illness

6. Abandonment

7. Adoption

How do I Fight a Termination of Parental Rights?

If your parental rights are about to be severed because of severe neglect or physical or sexual abuse, there’s nothing you can do, nor should you.

If your rights are about to be severed because of addiction, mental illness, or select cases of abandonment, there are steps you can take to preserve those rights. All of them will involve one of two main actions.

Fighting Termination: Two Things to Remember

The first? Stay engaged with the courts.

Alert a lawyer, go to court, and plead with a judge, even if you don’t know exactly what to do. Simply standing before an authority figure will work in your favor. Judges need to see that you’re trying.

The second? Do something – anything – to demonstrate your commitment to change. Enroll in rehab, see a doctor, or visit a psychiatrist. Any evidence that you’re willing to work will help you.

mom and daughter

How Do I Save My Parental Rights?

Every step in this list falls under one of our two general categories – stay engaged and do anything to demonstrate your readiness to change.

1. Read and Understand the Claim

2. Respond within 20 Days

3. Make Sure Everyone Gets Your Response

4. Go to Court

Remember: the Earlier You Fight, the Easier Your Fight

mother and baby playing

The more time you have to show a judge that you’ve changed, and that you can handle parenthood responsibly, the greater the chance that a judge will protect your parental rights. This is not an issue that survives procrastination.

Fight early, fight often, and keep your commitments, and you likely won’t have to suffer through the termination of your parental rights.

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