Regaining Parental Rights in a Family Court in California
By Beverly Bird
Your odds of regaining terminated parental rights in California depend a great deal on why you lost them. California won't terminate your rights because your ex wants you out of your child's life, or because you've agreed to give them up in exchange for not paying child support. You generally can't surrender your rights voluntarily, except to pave the way for your child's adoption, such as if his other parent has married or remarried and her spouse wants to adopt him. However, if you’ve abused or neglected your child, California will terminate your rights if the court feels harm may come to him if he remains with you.
Termination Due to Abuse or Neglect
If social services steps in and removes your child from your care due to abuse or neglect, California’s juvenile court will oversee the legal process. The court usually places your child in foster care or with a relative. The court then holds a hearing to determine whether to make that situation permanent and terminate your parental rights. Termination is not immediate. You’re given a period of time in which to repair the situation. If you’re successful, the court returns your child to you. If you’re not successful, the court terminates your parental rights and clears your child for adoption.
California enacted Assembly Bill 519 in January 2005 to provide a way for the restoration of parental rights after termination for abuse or neglect. However, the law is stringent. It applies only if no one adopted your child after the juvenile court terminated your rights. In this case, your child can petition the court to restore your rights. The law does not allow you to do so. Your child must inform his social worker or foster parent that this is his wish within three years of the court order terminating your relationship.
If you’ve rectified the situation that led to termination of your rights, and if the court determines it’s in your child’s best interests to reunite with you, the court might approve your child’s request. If he’s older than 12, he has the right to attend the court hearing terminating your rights and to object. In this case, the court will most likely allow you to take steps to improve and fix the situation that led to his removal. However, the court usually awards visitation during this process, as long as the judge feels that contact with you would not endanger your child. If you make use of this visitation and maintain an active and loving relationship with your child, this works in your favor.
After your child is legally adopted, there’s usually nothing you can do to reverse that situation and regain your rights. In both stepparent adoptions and adoptions ordered and approved through California’s juvenile court, the order of adoption begins a new life for your child and you can’t undo that. However, in stepparent adoptions, you have the right to object to the termination of your rights and to the adoption before it goes through. These actions take place in family court and a judge generally only terminates a parent’s rights, against his wishes, in such situations if he has failed to maintain a relationship with his child and has neglected to support him financially for an extended period of time. Family Court Services will investigate the situation and make a report to the judge before the judge makes a decision.
- Children’s Law Center of California: Restoring Parental Rights – Giving Legal Orphans a Chance at Family (PDF)
- Family Law Prof Blog: Case Law Development – Reinstating Parental Rights After Termination
- Onecle: California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26
- Sacramento County Public Law Library: Termination of Parental Rights
- Superior Court of Stanislaus County Self Help Center: Step-Parent Adoptions and Termination of Parental Rights (PDF)
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.