Can I Terminate My Ex’s Parental Rights?

Can I Terminate My Ex’s Parental Rights?
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Last updated: April 2007

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.

Question:

My ex-husband pays child support irregularly. I’m tired of hassling with him, and want to terminate his parental rights. He says he will give up visitation, and sign whatever is required to terminate his rights, if he doesn’t have to pay child support. How can I terminate my ex’s parental rights? Can I do that myself, or will I need a lawyer?

Answer:

Parental rights can be terminated in an adoption case, but usually only when someone new is willing to step into the shoes of the parent whose rights are terminated. If, for example, you have a new husband who is willing to adopt your kids, you could try to terminate your ex’s parental rights, and transform your new husband from step-father to adoptive father.

But, if all you want to do is terminate your ex’s parental rights, and leave your kids with just you as their only remaining parent, you are probably out of luck.

That is because the law wants kids to have two parents. Terminating one parent’s rights, without having someone else step in and take their place, isn’t something judges like to do. If it were, lots of deadbeats who just wanted to avoid child support would be only too willing to give up their parental rights.

A parent’s rights can be terminated as part of a juvenile case, but that means that there is serious abuse and neglect. Also, juvenile cases are filed by the State, so it is not something you can file yourself, or hire a private lawyer to file for you.

The fact that your ex is willing to agree to have his parental rights terminated doesn’t change things. You will still need someone else who is willing to adopt your kids once your ex’s rights are terminated. 

And that someone else would probably have to be your current spouse. Most judges would probably be unwilling to make someone an adoptive parent if that person wasn’t willing to marry the children’s biological parent.

When a parent wants their new spouse to adopt their kid(s), they can file a petition for adoption. The Adoption Act refers to multiple “petitioners,” so it implies that two people have to file the adoption case together.

If the other parent signs a proper consent to the adoption, it is likely a judge will sign a judgment terminating that person’s parental rights, and making the step-parent the new adoptive parent. 

If the other parent does not consent to the adoption, the people petitioning for the adoption must prove that the non-consenting parent is "unfit." Under Illinois law, a court will decide that a parent is unfit if that parent has abandoned their child, failed to show a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility in their child's welfare, deserted or neglected their child or treated their child with extreme or repeated cruelty.

Adoption cases have to be done just right, since terminating someone’s parental rights isn’t something the law takes lightly, or makes very easy. Therefore, as a practical matter, an adoption case is not something you should try without a lawyer.

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