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Understanding Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights

In Canada, parents are legally responsible for supporting their children through age 19. This means making the day-to-day decisions about raising children, including education, supervision, physical care, emotional well-being and other matters.

Unfortunately, sometimes a child’s parent fails to fulfil parental responsibilities for many years. In other cases, a parent’s actions put a child at risk for physical or emotional damage.

When a similar situation happens to your child, you may want to terminate parental rights for the neglectful or abusive parent.

Terminating parental rights is a difficult decision to make. It has far-reaching consequences, both for you and your child. However, sometimes terminating parental rights is the best way to protect your child from further harm.

Putting Children First

In parental rights cases, the court considers the child’s best interest above everything else. Parental preference or convenience are not sufficient grounds for terminating another parent’s rights.

In deciding the best way to distribute parental rights for any child, a judge examines:

  • The child’s health
  • Possible effects on the child’s emotional well-being
  • The child’s affection towards all parents or other interested parties (e.g. grandparents, step-parents)
  • Parenting ability and skill of parents and others
  • Stability of each possible living situation
  • Lasting effects of family history on the child

Individual circumstances may lead a judge to examine additional factors before reaching a decision.

Throughout the legal process, judges seek to protect children. Giving evidence for or against a parent can be confusing or stressful for children. Also, some children, particularly young children, cannot adequately evaluate their own circumstances to determine the best long-term decision. Consequently, judges usually avoid having children provide evidence or testimony in cases of parental rights. Nevertheless, children’s best interests remain paramount.

When to Terminate Parental Rights

The child’s best interests always come first in the eyes of the law. However, when a judge considers whether to terminate parental rights, behavior of the parent in question also affects the decision.

In many circumstances, terminating a neglectful parent’s rights serves the child’s best interests. These circumstances may include:

  • Severe abuse, including sexual abuse
  • Chronic abuse
  • Failure to support a child financially
  • Long-term lack of communication from parent to child
  • Habitual drug or alcohol abuse
  • Criminal convictions
  • Disobedience to court-mandated childcare and custody agreements

This list covers only some circumstances in which parental rights may be terminated. However, it provides a good overview of situations where terminating parental rights may be an option.

The items on this list also emphasize that terminating parental rights is a serious and final step, typically only resorted to in extreme circumstances when the child’s safety and well-being are endangered.

Ultimately, a judge determines if your individual circumstances merit termination of parental rights. The exception to this rule occurs when a parent relinquishes his or her rights voluntarily.

When Not to Terminate Parental Rights

Although the above list indicates many circumstances when terminating parental rights is a possible option, pursing this course must be considered carefully.

It is frustrating and even infuriating when your child’s parent is withholding contact or not paying child support. However, Canadian law does not link child support payments and access rights. A parent who is behind on child support still maintains rights to see and interact with the child unless a court ruling says otherwise. Similarly, a parent being denied access to a child must stay current on child support payments.

In circumstances like these, seeking termination of parental rights is not your best course of action. Even if these issues are habitual, a judge isn’t likely to see them as grounds for terminating parental rights. You have other legal options for recovering unpaid child support or seeking a new custody and access agreement.

Special Case: Step-Parent Adoptions

Sometimes terminating parental rights occurs when a child’s step-parent wants to legally adopt the child. Like any other adoption, a step-parent adoption gives the step-parent full legal responsibility for caring and providing for the child.

In these cases, the simplest course of action is for one parent to voluntarily give up his or her parental rights so the step-parent may adopt the child. If the parent consents to relinquish rights, the legal procedures are much simpler and less time-consuming.

However, sometimes parents refuse to relinquish these rights. Other times they cannot be reached to ask permission or are incapable of making personal legal decisions.

Under these or similar circumstances, Canadian law may grant the court power to decide if terminating parental rights serves the child’s best interest. Judges usually consider the same factors that are listed above. The judge also examines the step-parent’s history, parenting ability, and relationship with the child before reaching a decision.

Whatever your situation, if you want to pursue terminating someone’s parental rights, consult a lawyer to navigate this legal situation. Remember, you are taking this big step for your child’s benefit.


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