We are one of the leaders in parental rights termination litigation in Orange County, California. But what does that mean? Let's look at just some of the circumstances where the Court can remove a parent from a child's life when that would be in the child's best interests. Do any of these situations sound familiar?
Situation #1. You've remarried and your ex-spouse has dropped off the face of the earth. He/she never calls your children (or calls a couple of times a year to wish them Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas) and doesn't visit, even though he/she does send child support. In the meantime, you're engaged to be married and your fiance would like to adopt your children. Can this happen?
ANSWER: Yes. It does not matter how long you are married (one day or one year or a decade), but you must be married before you file your Request for Stepparent Adoption. To get the case going, however, you can start out by filing a Request for Termination of Parental Rights, since the other parent's rights must be terminated before your soon-to-be spouse can adopt. During the accompanying investigation (conducted by Court Services), you can inform the investigator of your impending marriage, and file for the stepparent adoption the minute you marry.
Situation #2. You have a life-threatening disease and are concerned for your children - their other parent is in no shape to care for them should something happen to you. Your ex-spouse (or ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend) is either in jail, has a criminal record (such that you're always on edge, wondering when they'll be picked up again), or lives a very unstable and unsafe life that would be detrimental to your children if they had to live with him or her. Even if you name a guardian for your child in your Last Will and Testament, did you know that the other parent will be the one who will first be contacted to raise your children if you pass on? That's what happens. Can you terminate the other parent's rights even though you have not remarried and do not plan to?
ANSWER: Yes. In certain circumstances, the Court has the power to terminate a parent's rights when the custodial parent may be dying and is unmarried. The court looks at what is in the best interests of the child, and whether there was ever a one year period in the child's life when the absent parent was largely absent (maybe making a couple of random phone contacts, sending a card or two, or visiting for a period of hours during that year). Even if the absent parent has had some contact during that one-year period, the court may still find it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the parental rights since that parent is unfit. If your request is granted by the Judge, the persons you designate as your child's guardian will raise your child if you cannot.
Situation #3. Your son, daughter, cousin or other relative left their child with you six months ago, and you haven't a clue as to where the biological parents are or what they're doing. They are not sending you any money to take care of their child, so the responsibilities (and the joys) of raising this child have all fallen to you. Perhaps you cannot bear the thought of this child being removed from your home and being subjected to the unpredictable lifestyle of his or her parents, and you feel you want to make the commitment to raise this child as your own. Can this be done?
ANSWER: Yes. The key to this answer lies in the fact that the parents have left the child with you for six months without providing for them, and rarely if ever have seen the child since leaving them with you.
Situation #4: You filed an action so you can receive child support from the other parent. Finally, someone located them and they've been served with the papers reflecting your desire and need for child support. Much to your surprise, the other parent responds, asking that the court give him or her significant time with the child even though they haven't seen the child for a long time, at one time going one year without much contact. Perhaps the absent parent even tells the court they haven't seen this child because you have prevented them from doing so! Your child hasn't seen this parent in quite some time, and reopening all of the visitation issues would be upsetting to the child, to say the least. In these circumstances, can you file for termination of parental rights?
ANSWER: Yes. Many clients feel self-conscious that they only file for termination of parental rights when the absent parent has asked for visitation in response to a request for child support, but this is a common situation. If this is in the best interests of your child, please come and see me so we can evaluate all of the facts surrounding your situation before anything is filed.
Situation #5: You're a grandparent and have been raising your grandchildren for quite some time. Maybe you have a guardianship and maybe you do not. In any case, one or both of the child's biological parents have announced that they are now ready to raise this child even though you believe it could be emotionally disastrous for them to resume parenting. Can you adopt your grandchild?
ANSWER: Yes, if all the facts indicate this is in your grandchild's best interests. We need to look at how long the parents have been absent, why they've been absent, whether they've given you any money at all for the child, and what the nature of their contacts have been with the child. Under the right circumstances, you will be able to file for Termination of Parental rights and adopt your grandchildren.
Please keep in mind that termination of parental rights is an extremely fact-sensitive action. You may have read the above situations and found that none of them fit your exact situation, and you despair that the child you love may be forced to reunite with its biological parent(s). ALL CASES ARE DIFFERENT! Come in and have me personally analyze the facts surrounding your case, and I will be able to tell you whether your action is worth pursuing.
Please know too that I am not the ultimate decision-maker in your case; that role falls to the Judge assigned to hear the matter. I can tell you what evidence you will need to present to make your case and I can tell you what I believe to be your chances of prevailing, but I cannot guarantee you will succeed. That is why I offer a no-charge consultation in these matters so you can weigh whether to proceed; you can contact me at 714.969.9910 to schedule your consultation. You can also learn more about the termination of parental rights by visiting our website.