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

One question I receive at my Bedford law office is how to terminate parental rights when a parent refuses involvement in a child’s life. The typical scenario is that after a divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) that established some visitation rights and child support obligations, the parent with visitation rights shortly after stopped involvement in the child’s life so the parent with custody of the child wants to terminate the other parent’s rights.

Sometimes the parent has reasonable reasons for wanting to pursue this course of action, such as ensuring the uninvolved parent does not end up with custody. I’m not sure that is a good use of time or money. If the other parent is not involved then there is little value in terminating his or her parental rights. Regardless of the reasons, there are some important financial considerations worth pondering before making a decision to terminate parental rights.

Terminating parental rights in Texas can be an expensive process

Terminating parental rights in Texas requires filing a lawsuit and proving the requirements set out in the Texas Family Code (chapter 161). If you pursue an involuntary termination of parental rights then you must prove one or more reasons in the Texas Family Code. If the other parent voluntarily agreed to terminate rights, you still must prove it is in the child’s best interests. This can be an expensive pursuit and there is no guarantee that the court will agree to terminate parental rights. You may spend hundred or, more likely, thousands of dollars to get before a judge only to be told no.

Judges are cautious about terminating parental rights because it means the child will only have one parent providing support. That increases the probability the state will provide benefits to the child due to lack of financial resources. When terminating rights it is important to know that this also terminates child support obligations.

So judges will typically will only grant a termination of parental rights in three situations. First, the termination is involuntary; and the risk to the child of a continued legal relationship between the parent and child is so dangerous to the child that the risk of a continued relationship outweighs the risk that the child will not be adequately supported by a single parent. Second, the other parent is absent or a danger to the child; and there is a need for the state to manage the affairs of the child. (This is rare and typically only happens in CPS cases where both parents are a danger to the child.) Third, the termination of parental rights makes way for an adoption. Otherwise, it is extremely unlikely that you will terminate the parent’s rights.

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 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 parental rights terminates other financial opportunities for your child

Another serious consideration is that terminating parental rights may deprive your child of opportunities to inherit through the parent whose rights have been terminated. In Texas, a termination of parental rights does not prevent the child from inheriting from the biological parent with terminated rights unless the termination order specifically says otherwise. (However, a parent with terminated rights does not inherit through the child absent a will to the contrary.) So although the termination order may not remove your child’s rights to inherit, it is more likely that the parent whose rights are terminated will not leave anything behind to your child.

If the other parent does not leave a will then under Texas inheritance rules your child could still inherit (if the termination order does not say otherwise) if there is anything of value to inherit. However, if a will exists it is more likely to cut out your child after terminating parental rights. It is also more likely that the parent will not list your child as a beneficiary on non-probate assets. This might be more of a “what if” situation; but you never know what the other parent will acquire or earn in the future.

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