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Can My Parental Rights Be Reinstated After Termination?

Understanding when a parent-child relationship can be restored

While every state has laws for the termination of parental rights, fewer than half the states provide for the reinstatement of parental rights after they have been terminated. 

In some situations, parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights so that the child can be placed for adoption. In other circumstances, termination of parental rights is involuntary. Involuntary termination is a step that courts rarely take, typically in cases of long-term abuse, neglect, or failure to provide for the child’s welfare. 

Legal requirements and processes vary in states that allow the reinstatement of parental rights. While it is difficult even there for a parent’s rights to be reinstated, it is possible. 

This article will give an overview of why parental rights are terminated in the first place and how these rights can be reinstated in some situations. If you are seeking reinstatement of your parental rights, it’s strongly encouraged that you speak with a family law attorney in your area. An experienced attorney will know the law in your state and be able to give you expert legal advice.  

What Is the Termination of Parental Rights? 

When a parent’s parental rights are terminated, the parent-child relationship is ended. With the termination of the legal relationship, the person no longer has the rights or responsibilities of parenthood, such as: 

  • Providing for the child’s daily wellbeing 
  • Making decisions on the child’s education and healthcare 
  • Paying child support 
  • Being involved in adoption proceedings 

Once the parent-child relationship is legally ended, the child can be placed for adoption or permanent guardianship.  

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights 

As mentioned above, the termination of parental rights can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary termination often occurs when a birth parent agrees to place the child for adoption.  

As New Jersey family law attorney Joseph P. Cadicina says, “Where we often see the termination of parental rights is adoption. The one parent terminates their parental rights to allow someone else to adopt the child. 

“If the parent doesn’t terminate their parental rights, the new person cannot adopt the child,” says Cadicina. “Most of these terminations are voluntary and don’t involve the bad actions of a parent where the state is coming to terminate rights. Instead, these individuals have voluntarily decided not to remain a parent. Often, we see this when there are stepparent adoptions.” 

Involuntary termination of parental rights is a last resort to ensure the child’s best interests. State laws vary, but courts generally require the following findings:  

  • The parent is unfit (this must be established through clear and convincing evidence) 
  • Termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child 

The grounds for involuntary termination are set in state laws. Often, involuntary termination cases involve long-term child abuse, neglect or abandonment, or the incapacitation of the parent due to mental illness or substance abuse. 

During termination proceedings, a family or juvenile court will consider evidence from investigations and witnesses. If the court finds a statutory ground, it will issue a court order terminating the parent-child relationship. 

As a practical matter, courts tend to look more favorably on parents who voluntarily gave up their rights than on parents whose rights were involuntarily terminated. 

Can Parental Rights Be Reinstated? 

A couple of dozen state legislatures have passed laws allowing for the restoration of parental rights under specific circumstances.  

As a general rule, courts must find that the former parent is fit to serve as the child’s parent again. The evidential standard for this requirement varies from state to state. Most state courts require clear and convincing evidence of parental fitness, but in some states the standard is less stringent.  

Essentially, the question is: What has changed since the termination of parental rights that makes the parent fit to care for the child again? Termination of parental rights is serious and typically can only be reversed if there is strong evidence of change. 

States that allow for the reunification of a former parent and child include California, Colorado, Illinois, New York and North Carolina. Requirements for reinstatement differ among these states. Below are some examples of when reinstatement might occur: 

  • A child has been in the foster care system for a period of time without permanent placement  
  • An older child in the foster care system is unlikely to be permanently placed in the future 

How long does a child have to be in the foster care system before reinstatement can happen? Time frames vary, but states typically require at least a couple of years from when the parental rights were terminated. 

What Is the Process for Reinstatement of Parental Rights? 

For parental rights to be reinstated, a petition for reinstatement must be submitted to the local family or juvenile court.  

Who can submit a petition? Again, this depends on state laws but can include: 

  • The child, if old enough (for example, the child must be 16 years of age or older in Colorado to petition) 
  • The child’s guardian ad litem 
  • The child’s attorney 
  • The county or state department of social services 

The court will hold a hearing and consider the evidence. In some states, the court may issue a temporary order allowing the child to be conditionally reunited with the parent. During the temporary order, the court will evaluate whether the parent is fit to take care of the child and whether permanent reunification is in the child’s best interest. 

If the court finds that it is in the best interests of the child to be permanently reunited with the parent, it will issue a final order to that effect. Some states require the court to approve a transition plan for full reinstatement of parental rights. State agencies, such as the department of social services, may provide transition services for accomplishing the transition to reunification.  

Questions for an Attorney 

Many family law attorneys provide free consultations for potential clients.  

Initial consultations allow you to get legal advice and consider whether you need legal help.  

To get the most out of a meeting, ask an attorney informed questions such as: 

  • What are your attorney’s fees and billing options? 
  • Does my state allow reinstatement of parental rights? 
  • My parental rights were involuntarily terminated. Can I have them reinstated? 
  • I voluntarily gave up my parental rights. Can I have them reinstated? 
  • What are the requirements for reinstatement of parental rights in my state? 
  • Who can petition the court for reinstatement? 
  • What is the process for reinstating rights? 

Once you have met with a lawyer and gotten your questions answered, you can begin an attorney-client relationship. 

You can look for a family law attorney in the Super Lawyers directory for legal help. 

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