Child custody disputes can be some of the most emotionally harrowing experiences in parents’ lives. The outcome of any child custody case can impact the lives of those involved for years to come, and the St. Charles, MO, family court has a legal duty to preserve the best interests of the children affected by these orders. Custody disputes may arise between unmarried or divorcing parents, and it’s possible for events to interfere with a standing custody order in numerous ways. Parents in Missouri could potentially lose their parental rights in response to certain behaviors.

Whether you are facing a divorce involving child custody or a standalone dispute between you and your co-parent, knowing how a parent might lose their custody rights is vital. A parent can surrender their parental rights voluntarily, but this does not release them from their parental responsibilities. Involuntary termination of parental rights is also possible if a parent commits a serious offense.

What Is Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights?

The family courts of Missouri uphold that a child benefits most with access to both of their parents. However, a family court judge will only be willing to grant custody rights to a parent they deem fit to handle their child’s needs. If a judge determines that a parent cannot handle these responsibilities, they are unlikely to receive a significant share of custody. Some parents may only qualify for limited and/or supervised visitation.

A parent may also voluntarily terminate their parental rights if they do not wish to have custody of their child. The judge will not force a biological parent to participate in their child’s life against their will as this could result in resentment, abuse, and neglect. A parent may surrender their claim to custody and give the other parent full custody, but this would not release them from their child support obligation.

If the custodial parent remarries and the child’s stepparent is willing to legally adopt the child, the noncustodial parent would be released from their child support obligation. The adoptive parent, after that, assumes economic responsibility for the child. Most adoption cases begin with the adoptive parent obtaining the noncustodial parent’s signature for voluntary termination of parental rights.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Missouri

While voluntary termination of parental rights is common for adoption cases in Missouri and throughout the US, involuntary termination of parental rights may occur due to criminal behavior. For example, during a custody determination, a judge may assess that a parent poses a significant health or safety risk to their child and deny them custody rights. It is also possible for a parent who has a standing custody order to lose their parental rights in response to:

  • Domestic violence. Any form of domestic violence can potentially lead to involuntary termination of parental rights, especially if the victim is the offender’s child or their co-parent. Missouri prosecutes domestic violence offenses very seriously, especially when children are harmed. It would be doubtful that any parent who loses custody for such offenses will ever regain any parental rights.
  • Child abuse. A parent could lose their custody rights if they commit child abuse or neglect. This includes not only their own children but also other people’s children.
  • Substance abuse disorders. If a judge handling a custody determination ascertains that a parent has an addiction, they will not award that parent much in the way of custody rights due to the risks their condition presents to their children. The judge may require the parent to complete a rehabilitation program and maintain sobriety for an extended period before they can petition for expanded custody or visitation rights. A parent who has committed a serious drug-related offense or displayed an unwillingness to seek treatment for an addiction could have their parental rights involuntarily terminated.
  • Felony offenses. If a parent is convicted of any felony offense, especially a violent one, the judge handling sentencing may deem that they pose an existential threat to their child and will be unable to exercise any parenting rights due to impending incarceration.

It is challenging for any parent who has their parental rights involuntarily terminated to regain any of those rights in the future. At most, parents in this situation may obtain limited visitation rights, but they must be able to prove that doing so would benefit their child. If you have lost your parental rights due to a substance abuse disorder, a mental health condition, or a criminal offense, you need legal representation you can trust if you believe you can make a case to regain parental rights.

Parents who have their parental rights involuntarily terminated will not be released from their child support obligations unless their children are legally adopted. Any parent who fails to meet their child support obligations faces contempt of court and penalties such as fines and jail time.

What Is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court applies whenever a party willfully violates or refuses to follow a lawful family court order. For example, if your co-parent has done something that you believe violates the terms of your custody order, or if they have done anything to endanger your child, you can file contempt proceedings against them to have the court address your concerns. If a parent is found in contempt of court, they may lose their parental rights at the judge’s discretion.

When a parent has displayed any behavior that a judge determines to be a risk to their child or co-parent, the judge may also implement a restraining order against that parent. This would prohibit them from coming into close contact or communicating with the child or the other parent. Violation of a restraining order carries severe penalties, including incarceration and heavy fines.

Ultimately, some parents may need to take swift legal action to keep their children safe from unfit co-parents. An experienced family law attorney is the ideal resource in these situations. Whether you face losing your parental rights for some reason, plan to adopt a stepchild, or need to ensure your co-parent does not harm your child, contact an experienced St. Charles family law attorney to guide you through any case involving termination of parental rights.