Once Parental Rights Are Terminated, Can You Get Them Back?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills

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Termination of parental rights is a serious issue for the parents, children and professionals involved in the decision. There are two ways parental rights are terminated: voluntary termination and involuntary termination. Voluntary termination is when one or both parents relinquish their parental rights without compulsion, usually when the parents wish to put the child up for adoption. Courts and judges determine involuntary termination of parental rights in accordance with state laws. The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that while State laws vary to a degree, for the most part they are in agreement with a few key points.

Meaning of Termination

Termination of parental rights has a very strict meaning. It means the end of the legal parent-child relationship. Every state has statutes covering the termination of parental rights. In cases in which parents wish to put their child up for adoption, the parents must voluntarily terminate parental rights so the adoption process can move forward. Voluntary termination serves the same purpose through compulsion, but with the objective of placing the child in a more stable environment. Most states require courts to have clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit and that severing the parent-child relationship is in the best interest of the child.

Grounds for Termination

When courts consider the termination of parental rights, they are concerned with specific circumstances that signify risks to the child if returned home. Those circumstances include potential harm from the parent or parental neglect that results in not meeting the child's basic needs. Some of the common grounds used for involuntary termination include severe or chronic abuse; child abandonment; long-term drug or alcohol abuse; felonies crimes against another child; extended incarceration or long-term mental illness.

Statutory Grounds

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA) requires states to go to court and file a petition to terminate parental rights when out of 22 previous months, a child has spent 15 of those months in foster care. States must also file in cases of infant abandonment or when the parent has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter against another child in the home; had a role in the murder or voluntary manslaughter against another child in the household; or has committed a felony assault against the child or any other child in the household. Most states have adopted the AFSA standard; however, some states use shorter time limits, often in cases of very young children.

The Final Word

Once a parent terminates parental rights, in almost every case it is final. The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that only in eight states can a parent petition the court to regain parental rights and only if the child is not yet adopted. Once the child is adopted into a new family, in those cases as well, termination of parental rights is final. Parents have no legal right over the child and cannot regain custody thereafter, reports the North Carolina Division of Social Services.