The Texas sized myth of terminating rights to avoid child support
In a recent post I discussed why parents sometimes want to terminate the parental rights of another parent in Bedford, Fort Worth, or Dallas and why that is often not a financially advantageous move. Today’s post takes the other side: whether a parent can terminate his or her own rights to avoid child support. I’ll tell you up front that the answer is almost always no. Like 99.99999999999999999999999999% of the time no. You don’t have to take my word for it; but as a Fort Worth divorce lawyer I have seen more of these situations than most people.
Are a parent contemplating terminating your own rights to avoid child support in Texas? Or you are the parent receiving child support and the other parent is threatening to terminate his or her rights? Then you should keep reading to understand why and what you can do in your situation. This is an issue often discussed but suffers a lot of confusion and misconceptions. This post will attempt to clarify the law and dissolve those misconceptions.
When a parent can voluntarily terminate his or her rights in Texas
Under the Texas Family Code chapter 161 a parent can file a petition to terminate his or her rights. The most significant result of terminating a parent’s rights is that the parent no longer has rights to access the child through possession or visitation periods and the parent’s support obligation is terminated. There was a time in Texas where it was not difficult for a parent owing child support (an obligor parent) to terminate his or her rights to avoid paying child support after a divorce or other suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR).
In almost every family court in Texas the judges now decline to permit an obligor parent to terminate his or her rights voluntarily unless there is also another person adopting the child to ensure the child receives the benefit of two supporting parents. The Texas Family Code requires any termination of parental rights to be in the child’s best interest. It is usually not in the best interests of the child to eliminate the financial support of one parent without compelling reason. Family judges have discretion to determine whether a voluntary termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests but their discretion almost always falls in favor of maintaining two supporting parents.
(There are other reasons why a voluntary termination may be appropriate and a longer list of why involuntary terminations can be granted by a family court in Texas but these issues are beyond the subject of today’s post. Additionally, there are other limitations on a father’s rights to voluntarily terminate his rights discussed in the Texas Family Code.)
Myth of the voluntary relinquishment
There is a huge misconception that a parent can just sign a voluntary relinquishment and that’s that. Nope. A petition has to be filed with the relinquishment and the court has to hold trial on the specific reasons for voluntary termination listed in the petition. It is not a quick process and the other parent is free to contest the termination. It may cost thousands of dollars and the judge is likely to decline to terminate rights without another adoptive parent. That’s a lot of time and money usually wasted for nothing.
Another huge misconception is that voluntarily terminating rights extinguishes a child support arrearage so the parent walks away scot-free. That is incorrect. In the highly unlikely event that the parent succeeds in voluntarily terminating his or her rights and an amount of child support arrears remains, the parent still owes the arrears. The child support obligation does not increase and interest no longer accrues but the former obligor still owes the arrears.
Other options for the obligor parent in Texas
So you probably cannot terminate your rights without doing something truly awful to your child, which will likely expose you to other fines and penalties (including jail) that are far worse than paying child support. (Convictions for child abuse, child endangerment and so forth could severely limit your job prospects.) That means not avoiding an ongoing child support obligation. If your child support exceeds the standards in the Texas Family Code then you may be eligible to reduce payments.
There may also room to negotiate further reductions in child support or a larger arrangement with the parent who receives the child support (the obligee parent) to reduce child support. It is extremely unlikely that a voluntary agreement will reduce child support to zero; but that does not mean other agreements are necessarily off the table.
If the obligee is married then you may have luck encouraging the other person to adopt your child.
Unfortunately there are not many options to eliminate your child support obligation without the help of the other parent.
What you should know if the obligor parent is threatening to terminate his or her rights
You should know that these threats occur because the obligor parent has a serious interest in not paying child support and/or to coerce you into doing something you otherwise would not, such as agreeing to a reduced child support amount or eliminating spousal support ordered by a divorce decree. This is definitely a “knowledge is power” situation. You should not allow the obligor to steer you into a bad situation out of fear of something unlikely. Before agreeing to any change in the possession or child support orders you need to talk to a lawyer. There may also be opportunities to resolve other issues through a mutual agreement regarding the child or children.
Although the obligor may not get far with voluntarily termination of parental rights, the obligor’s intentions are concerning. A parent willing to dissolve any connection to his or her child says a lot about the importance they place on the child support obligation. That parent may be looking at a variety of underhanded and possibly unlawful ways to avoid paying child support. This might include tactics such as trying to disappear, refuse employment or paid under the table.
Keep track of the other parent
One of the best things you can do in these situations is keep track of the obligor’s residence and employment. That may be more difficult if you are not in regular contact but use social media and personal relationships. The more information you have the easier it will be to pursue legal remedies to maintain the support obligation.