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Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

torn photo of mother and child. Separation concept

California law assumes that parents should retain custody of their children. If there’s a custody dispute between two parents, the courts will operate from the assumption that children benefit most from continued contact with both parents. Under certain circumstances, California law permits the termination of parental rights. Continue reading to learn about the grounds for terminating parental rights, and if you are in a custody dispute or you fear for the safety of a child, call a compassionate Claremont child custody and parental rights lawyer for advice and representation.

What Does Termination of Parental Rights Mean?

Legal parents enjoy a number of parental rights and obligations, including the rights to custody and parenting time, the right to make decisions regarding the child’s healthcare, and the obligation to provide financial support. When a parent’s rights are terminated, they lose those rights and those obligations–they are no longer considered to be the child’s legal parent.

A parent can voluntarily waive their parental rights when, for example, the child is adopted by a step-parent. Parental rights can also be involuntarily stripped away when the parent’s behavior puts their child at risk. An interested party can petition a county court to strip the parent’s rights pursuant to the California Family Code.

Parental rights can only be terminated for specific reasons, laid out by the family code. The grounds for termination of parental rights are explored below.


Parental rights may be terminated when one or both parents have abandoned the child. Abandonment occurs in any of the following situations:

  • The parents left the child without provision for identification of the child’s parents (such as if the child was left at a church or foster care center without the parents’ IDs)

  • The parents (or the sole parent with custody) left the child in the care and custody of another person for at least six months without any provision for the child’s support, or without any communication, with the intent to abandon the child

  • One parent left the child in the care and custody of the other parent for at least one year without any financial support, or without any communication, and with the intent to abandon the child

Neglect or Cruelty

A court can terminate parental rights when the child has been neglected or treated cruelly by one or both parents. Cruelty can take the form of physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or other cruel treatment.

Felony Conviction

A parent’s rights may be terminated when one or both parents have been convicted of a felony, and the facts of the crime are such that they prove the parent is unfit to have future custody and control of the child. The court may also consider a parent’s prior criminal record to the extent it demonstrates a pattern of criminal behavior that relates to the child’s welfare or the parent’s ability to care for the child.

Disability Caused by Addiction or Moral Depravity

Parental rights may be terminated when the parent suffers from a mental or physical incapacity that results from the habitual use of drugs or alcohol. Rights may also be terminated if the parent is deemed “morally depraved.” The parent’s condition must be such that they are unable to care for and control their child adequately, and termination may only occur after the child has been a dependent of the juvenile court (meaning outside of the parents’ custody) for at least a year.

Mental Illness or Mental Incapacity

If a parent has been declared mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or otherwise lacking the mental capacity to care for and control their child, their parental rights may be terminated for the safety and security of the child. Lack of capacity can be proven by court order declaring the parent mentally ill or developmentally disabled, or by medical expert reports demonstrating that the parent is mentally disabled.

Call a seasoned California parental rights and child custody attorney at Blasser Law for assistance with a dispute over parental rights, child custody, property division, divorce, or any other California family law matter. The experienced, dedicated Claremont child custody legal team at Blasser Law is ready to assist clients with any family law concerns in the San Gabriel Valley or Los Angeles County. Contact our family law office at 877-927-2181.

Blasser Law

445 West Foothill Blvd., Suite 108
Claremont, CA 91711




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