Overview of Terminating Parental Rights

Terminating a parent’s rights means that the person’s rights as a parent are taken away. The person is not the child’s legal parent anymore. This means:

  • The parent-child relationship no longer exists.
  • The parent no longer gets to raise the child.
  • The parent usually has no right to visit or talk with the child. 
  • The parent no longer has to pay child support. 
  • The parent is removed from the child’s birth certificate. 
  • The child can be adopted without the parent’s permission.

Terminating a parent’s rights has been called the “civil death penalty” and is taken very seriously by judges. Judges do not terminate a parent’s rights unless there is a very good reason.  This page contains answers to the most common questions about terminating parental rights.

Who Can Terminate a Parent’s Rights?
Can I Give Up My Rights?
What Are the Reasons to Terminate a Parent’s Rights?
Where Do I File?
I Haven’t Heard From The Other Parent In Years. Is There A Fast Way To Terminate Their Rights?
Do I Need An Attorney?

CAUTION!

The information here applies to private terminations between family members only.  If you are involved with Child Protective Services ("CPS") with the Clark County Department of Family Services ("DFS"), the state can ask the court to terminate parental rights in very serious cases.  There may be different rules and procedures that apply in those cases.  You can learn more about CPS and DFS by visiting their website or visiting the Child Protection page.

Who Can Terminate a Parent’s Rights?

A parent, guardian, or other family member can file a petition asking to terminate a parent’s rights. If the child or the petitioner receive public assistance (such as TANF or SNAP), it is unlikely that a judge will terminate the parent’s rights.  In that event, the Child Support office must be notified of a termination case and may oppose the termination if public assistance is being provided.

If CPS has been involved with a family, the Department of Family Services (“DFS”) can file a petition asking a judge to terminate a parent’s rights. This usually happens after DFS has been involved with the family for a year or more to try and fix the problems. If the parent does not make progress, or if the problems are very serious, DFS can ask the District Attorney to file a termination of parental rights case. 

 

Can I Give Up My Rights?

Usually not. Judges want children to have two parents to provide emotional and financial support. You cannot give up your parental rights to avoid dealing with a child’s behavioral problems, and you cannot give up your parental rights to avoid paying child support.

You may voluntarily give up your parental rights if someone else wants to adopt the child, or if someone else has filed a petition to terminate your rights.  You will typically need to go to a court hearing to let the judge know your wishes in person.

 

What Are the Reasons to Terminate a Parent’s Rights?

There are several different reasons a judge can terminate a parent’s rights:

  1. Abandonment. This is behavior that shows the parent intends to give up all rights to the child. Usually, this means that a parent has not contacted the child and has not provided any financial support to the child for at least 6 months without a good reason. 
  2. Neglect. The parent has not properly cared for the child’s needs, including providing food, shelter, medical care, education, or any other special care needed for the child. 
  3. The Parent is Unfit. An unfit parent is one who can’t or won’t provide the child with proper care, guidance, and support. 
  4. There is a Serious Risk of Physical, Emotional, or Mental Injury if the Child is Returned to the Parent. The child would be in danger with the parent. 
  5. Token Efforts. The parent has made minimal effort to support the child, communicate with the child, or otherwise care for the child.
  6. Failure of Parental Adjustment. If CPS removed a child from the home, the parent only has so much time to correct the reasons that caused the child to be removed. If the parents do not correct those problems within a “reasonable time,” the state can petition to terminate their rights. 

No matter what, the judge also has to decide that it would be in the children’s best interest to terminate the parent’s rights. The person asking to terminate the parent’s rights has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that one of the grounds above exists, and that termination would be in the child’s best interest. This is a very high standard.

 

Where Do I File?

Termination cases are generally filed in the District Court of the county where the child lives.  

WARNING!

If the child is an American Indian child, these matters usually must be handled by the tribal court.  Check with the tribal court before filing any papers to be sure you are fiilng in the correct court.

 

I Haven’t Heard From The Other Parent In Years. Is There A Fast Way To Terminate Their Rights?

No. In fact, it may take longer to terminate their rights if you don’t know where the parent is.

If you file a case against the other parent, you have to make sure that person is “served” in person with copies of the legal papers you filed. This allows the parent to show up in court and defend themselves if they want.

If you do not know where the other parent is, the judge will expect you to do everything you can possibly do to find the parent. This includes checking with mutual friends, their family, their employer, looking for the person online or through email, etc. If you still cannot find the other parent, you can ask the judge’s permission to post a notice in a newspaper instead. Judges do not allow this unless you have really tried everything you can think of to find the other parent without any luck.

If the judge allows you to post a notice in a newspaper, you will have to publish a notice for 4 weeks, mail the papers to the parent’s last known address, AND ALSO have the parent’s nearest known relative living in Nevada served in person with the papers.

 

Do I Need An Attorney?

Terminating someone’s parental rights is a very serious matter. It is a good idea to have a lawyer help you since there are complicated laws and procedures that have to be followed.  You can learn where to find an attorney on the Lawyers & Legal Help page.

If DFS filed a case asking to terminate your rights, an attorney will usually be appointed to represent you for free. If the other parent filed a case against you, you should seriously considering hiring an attorney to defend you.