Terminating a parent’s rights in Texas: The Financial Risks

Parents in Texas sometimes decide they want to terminate another parent’s rights to their children. Often this occurs after a divorce or child custody case issued orders assigning rights to each parent. At some point after the end of the case relationships break down and one parent decides it is time to sever the parent-child relationship. Terminating another parent’s rights in Texas requires following specific rules under Chapter 161 of the Texas Family Code and evidence that terminating rights would be in the children’s best interests. Texas courts rarely terminate parental rights absent a clear danger to the children. A major concern for courts is how the children will be financially supported if one parent’s rights and duties to the child ends. Before attempting to terminate a parent’s rights in Texas you should consult with an experienced child custody lawyer.

Why a parent may want to terminate another parent’s rights in Texas

Parents have a multitude of reasons why they want to terminate the other parent’s rights. Often parents threaten or pursue termination as a way to retaliate or try to force the other parent to do something. Sometimes the reason is justified because of a serious danger to the child. Chapter 161 of the Texas Family Code gives specific reasons why a parent or the Department of Family and Protective Services can involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights. More generally, parents might want to terminate a parent’s rights because:

  • The parent isn’t paying child support ordered by a family court;
  • The parent isn’t exercising possession or visitation time;
  • Parents fight over decisions involving the child’s health, school, welfare and other issues;
  • One parent wants to punish the other one;
  • One parent wants to force the other to do something or risk losing the relationship with the children;
  • A parent is a danger to the physical safety of a child;
  • One parent is incarcerated;
  • A parent wants a new spouse to adopt the child and start a new family without the other parent.

Not all of these are reasons permitting a court to terminate a parent’s rights. Actually very few of these are reasons a judge can even consider under the Texas Family Code.

Terminating parental rights in Texas is a difficult process

Terminating a parent’s rights is not as easy as signing a document or asking a judge. A termination proceeding is a civil lawsuit that involves several steps and as a family law proceeding even more steps than a typical civil case. The standard to completely sever a parent-child relationship is high for two main reasons. First, terminating parental rights in Texas is a permanent decision. The court cannot reestablish a parental relationship and termination severs all rights and duties of that parent. Second, because it severs all duties it means the parent has no duty to support the child. Courts are concerned with how a child will be supported with one parent. Judges do not easily transfer that responsibility to the state (taxpayers) if there is a capable parent.

A parent who attempts to terminate parental rights will find the process complex and expensive, with or without an attorney. Unless the parent poses a serious danger to the child the parent should expect an involuntary termination of parental rights probably will not be granted. The DFPS (CPS) may choose to pursue an involuntary termination if it agrees that there is a significant danger identified in section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code. The DFPS will absorb the cost of pursuing termination but generally only pursues cases where it first had to remove the child from a home.

Parents who pursue terminating the other parent’s rights as a punitive act should beware. The other parent may file a cross-petition for termination or modification of the existing order on the basis that you used the judicial process inappropriately to cause harm to the other parent at the child’s expense. Judges do not appreciate parents vindictively filing termination motions. The judge can consider a frivolous petition as evidence of your hostility towards the other parent. That parent may also use the judicial process to investigate you and find other reasons to modify custody and support orders in their favor.

Terminating parental rights terminates all Texas child support obligations

As mentioned above, terminating a parent’s rights terminates all child support obligations. That can represent an enormous amount of lost support for your child, especially if your child is young. Keep in mind that child support is not just the monthly support payments but also health care, educational and other expenses. Often people seeking termination of parental rights point out that the other parent is not paying the child support anyway. That is not the appropriate remedy. If the obligor parent does not pay child support then you should enforce the child support order on the parent.

I also frequently hear a response that the receiving parents doesn’t want or doesn’t need the child support. It is a good thing if you can support yourself and your child without the extra child support; but that may not always be the case. You may lose your job or suffer a pay cut. Your child may have expensive medical treatment requirements in the future. Your child may have other needs or wants over time that you cannot afford on your own.

That child support can go a long way towards paying for those needs or wants, especially for medical expenses. Your child may suffer a lifelong impairment as a result of some future event or medical condition. Depriving your child of access to that support obligation may trap the child in a low income situation as an adult. A lot can change over time as your child grows up but if you terminate parental rights there is no going back. It is an irreversible, permanent termination of all support obligations.

All terrible future possibilities aside, that child support may be useful to give your child opportunities to enjoy activities to help him or her have a healthy and happy childhood in spite of not having two loving parents. You can save the money to help pay for college, starting a business or buying a house.

Terminating a parent’s rights risks causing harm to your children

Terminating a parent’s rights and ending a parent’s relationship with the child will likely have some harmful effect on the child. Courts may only terminate the parent’s rights if it is in the child’s best interests but that does not mean the child will not suffer any negative effects. Losing a connection to a parent is often difficult for a child and may feel responsible for hurting one of the parents. Your child may suffer emotional and developmental consequences which should be considered and addressed. Avoiding a more serious harm by allowing that parent to remain in the child’s life may outweigh the consequences of severing the relationship.

There are other options under the Texas Family Code

Terminating the other parent’s rights may not be the only option to consider. Because termination is a severe and permanent decision it may make more sense to pursue alternative solutions under the Texas Family Code. If the problem is a lack of payment of child support it may be better to pursue a child support enforcement rather than cutting off the child support obligation. A more limited disagreement or problem with one parent can be more easily addressed through informal or formal negotiations. A modification of the custody orders may solve an issue without cutting ties completely.

Talk to an experienced child custody lawyer in Texas about terminating a parent’s rights

If you are serious about wanting to terminate the other parent’s rights then you should speak to an experienced child custody lawyer. Allow your lawyer to talk to you about your situation and whether termination is even a likely result under the Texas Family Code and the family court judges in your area. Your attorney can advise you on the likely consequences of pursuing termination and whether an alternative solution may better fit your needs. If you act on your desire to terminate the other parent’s rights you may cause long term harm to the co-parenting relationship so be sure you have made an informed decision with the help of legal counsel before acting.

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