Legal Insights: Termination of Parental Rights Complicated, Emotional Process

Published on: 2/23/2013

When we talk about termination of parental rights, we need to be clear that this typically occurs when a third party, the state or the county believes that a parent no longer has good decision-making abilities regarding their child. Everyone who has a child has a constitutional right to be in their kids’ lives.

Clearly, other factors such as divorce, custody and placement issues come into play. However, being a parent and being associated with your children and making decisions about them remains a constitutional right.

What happens if a third party or the state steps in and believes your parental rights should be terminated? In certain circumstances, a parent will voluntarily relinquish their parental rights and a lawyer can assist you with that process. Certainly, if you are the one asking for another person to have those rights terminated, a lawyer can also help with that transition.  Wisconsin law requires that you need to prove that there are actual grounds for terminating the rights of another parent.

For instance, a number of circumstances could be use to establish these legal grounds for terminating parental rights including child abuse or abandonment. Perhaps a parent is in jail or is for whatever reason no longer involved in a child’s life and doesn’t do anything with them. Maybe that parent has a drug addiction or consistently makes bad decisions that negatively impact the child.

If Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates your family and determines you are abusing or neglecting your children, they may file a "Children in Need of Protection or Services" (CHIPS) or "Juvenile in Need of Protection or Services" (JIPS) case against you.

They may also call for an emergency "safety intervention" hearing to put your children in foster care immediately for their protection. This can be devastating for your entire family, and there is no time to delay.

When Child Protective Services moves to terminate parental rights, it is typically after a somewhat lengthy period where CPS and the court have ordered a parent to make changes in their behavior or living situation and the parent has been unable to do so.

Because every parent has a right to be involved with their child’s life, it is of utmost importance to have an experienced trial attorney get involved in the process. Typically, there will be an attorney for mom, dad or other parties who are involved as well as a legal guardian (Guardian Ad Litem) to represent the child’s best interests. During the hearing, it will be determined whether there are actually grounds for terminating a parent’s rights. These are always complicated, emotional proceedings and they will have lasting effects on all parties involved.

If you find yourself in this position and are in danger of losing your parental rights or you need to terminate the rights of an irresponsible parent, you need to have competent legal counsel that is familiar with the proceedings involved because it’s not always “cut and dry.” There are many issues involved including how you might even be able to re-gain your parental rights should the court rule against you.

Terminating parental rights is a complicated, highly emotional matter. The courts won’t take this action lightly or without sufficient legal grounds to do so.