As a general rule, a father cannot sign his rights to his child away. A biological father cannot take any unilateral action that will render him not legally liable for his child. The parent child relationship, however, can be terminated. There are two ways that a parent’s rights to his child can be terminated. The first way is an involuntary termination if termination is in the best interest of the child. The second way is through adoption by a third party – usually a “step-parent adoption”. Each way is discussed more fully below.
Can One Parent Terminate the Parental Rights Of Other Parent?
In Maryland a biological parents does not have the right to terminate the other biological parent’s parental rights.
Terminating Parental Rights
A parent, with the assistance of the courts, however, may be able to terminate the rights of the other parent in certain circumstances. These circumstances are usually by stepparent adoption or a decree of adoption or guardianship. Involuntary termination of parental rights is governed by statute:
Maryland Family Law Section 5-313
(a) A court may grant a decree of adoption or a decree of guardianship, without the consent of a natural parent otherwise required by §§ 5-311 and 5-317 of this subtitle, if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child to terminate the natural parent’s rights as to the child and that:
(1) the child is abandoned as provided in subsection (b) of this section;
(2) in a prior juvenile proceeding, the child has been adjudicated to be a child in need of assistance, a neglected child, an abused child, or a dependent child; or
(3) the following set of circumstances exists:
(i) the child has been continuously out of the custody of the natural parent and in the custody of a child placement agency for at least 1 year;
(ii) the conditions that led to the separation from the natural parent still exist or similar conditions of a potentially harmful nature still exist;
(iii) there is little likelihood that those conditions will be remedied at an early date so that the child can be returned to the natural parent in the immediate future; and
(iv) a continuation of the relationship between the natural parent and the child would diminish greatly the child’s prospects for early integration into a stable and permanent family.
(b) The court may find that a child is abandoned for purposes of this section if, after a thorough investigation by the child placement agency, the court finds that:
(1) the identity of the child’s natural parents is unknown; and
(2) no one has claimed to be the child’s natural parent within 2 months of the alleged abandonment of the child.
(c) In determining whether it is in the best interest of the child to terminate a natural parent’s rights as to the child in any case, except the case of an abandoned child, the court shall give:
(1) primary consideration to the safety and health of the child; and
(2) consideration to:
(i) the timeliness, nature, and extent of the services offered by the child placement agency to facilitate reunion of the child with the natural parent;
(ii) any social service agreement between the natural parent and the child placement agency, and the extent to which all parties have fulfilled their obligations under the agreement;
(iii) the child’s feelings toward and emotional ties with the child’s natural parents, the child’s siblings, and any other individuals who may significantly affect the child’s best interest;
(iv) the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
(v) the result of the effort the natural parent has made to adjust the natural parent’s circumstances, conduct, or conditions to make it in the best interest of the child to be returned to the natural parent’s home, including:
- the extent to which the natural parent has maintained regular contact with the child under a plan to reunite the child with the natural parent, but the court may not give significant weight to any incidental visit, communication, or contribution;
- if the natural parent is financially able, the payment of a reasonable part of the child’s substitute physical care and maintenance;
- the maintenance of regular communication by the natural parent with the custodian of the child; and
- whether additional services would be likely to bring about a lasting parental adjustment so that the child could be returned to the natural parent within an ascertainable time, not exceeding 18 months from the time of placement, but the court may not consider whether the maintenance of the parent-child relationship may serve as an inducement for the natural parent’s rehabilitation; and
(vi) all services offered to the natural parent before the placement of the child, whether offered by the agency to which the child is committed or by other agencies or professionals.
(d) (1) In determining whether it is in the best interest of the child to terminate a natural parent’s rights as to the child in a case involving a child who has been adjudicated to be a child in need of assistance, a neglected child, an abused child, or a dependent child, the court shall consider the factors in subsection (c) of this section and whether any of the following continuing or serious conditions or acts exist:
(i) the natural parent has a disability that renders the natural parent consistently unable to care for the immediate and ongoing physical or psychological needs of the child for long periods of time;
(ii) the natural parent has committed acts of abuse or neglect toward any child in the family;
(iii) the natural parent has failed repeatedly to give the child adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education or any other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health, even though the natural parent is physically and financially able;
(iv) 1. A. the child was born exposed to cocaine, heroin, or a derivative thereof as evidenced by any appropriate tests of the mother or child; or
- upon admission to a hospital for delivery of the child, the mother tested positive for cocaine, heroin, or a derivative of cocaine or heroin as evidenced by any appropriate toxicology test; and
- the natural parent refuses the recommended level of drug treatment, or fails to fully participate in the recommended level of drug treatment; or
(v) the natural parent has:
- subjected the child to:
- torture, chronic abuse, or sexual abuse; or
- chronic and life-threatening neglect;
- been convicted:
- in this State of a crime of violence, as defined in § 14-101 of the Criminal Law Article, against the child, the other natural parent of the child, another child of the natural parent, or any person who resides in the household of the natural parent;
- in any state or in any court of the United States of a crime that would be a crime of violence, as defined in § 14-101 of the Criminal Law Article, if committed in this State against the child, the other natural parent of the child, another child of the natural parent, or any person who resides in the household of the natural parent; or
- of aiding or abetting, conspiring, or soliciting to commit a crime described in item A or item B of this item; or
- involuntarily lost parental rights of a sibling of the child.
(2) If a natural parent does not provide specified medical treatment for a child because the natural parent is legitimately practicing religious beliefs, that reason alone does not make the natural parent a negligent parent.
(3) The court shall consider the evidence under paragraph (1)(i) through (iv) of this subsection regarding continuing or serious conditions or acts and may waive the child placement agency’s obligations under subsection (c) of this section if the court, after appropriate evaluation of efforts made and services rendered, finds by clear and convincing evidence that the waiver of those obligations is in the best interest of the child.
(4) The court shall waive the child placement agency’s obligations under subsection (c) of this section if the court finds that one of the circumstances or acts enumerated in paragraph (1)(v) of this subsection exists.
(5) If the court finds that any of the circumstances or acts enumerated in paragraph (1)(v) of this subsection exists, the court shall make a specific finding, based on facts in the record, as to whether or not the return of the child to the custody of the natural parent poses an unacceptable risk to the future safety of the child.
Any individual can file a petition in the court for guardianship or adoption before the child attains 18 years of age. A parent’s rights can also be terminated by the local Department of Social Services by filing a court petition. After the petition is filed, the case can be held in the Juvenile Court of the jurisdiction when the parent does not agree to the rights’ termination. The petitioner must prove that the parent is either unfit or unexceptional circumstances that can lead to parental rights termination.
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If you have questions about parental rights, termination, or child custody…..we can help. Our practice is primarily family law. And we have decades of experience. We know our judges, we know our court system. We can help you assemble a plan. We can help you understand what you can do in your circumstances, no matter where you are in the divorce and custody process. If you want to begin to make your plan, are ready to consult with an attorney, or just need some questions answered, contact us here, go online to schedule an appointment, or call us at (301)515-1190 to set up an initial consultation.