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Terminating Parental Rights in Texas

Child Custody & Visitation

This article contains information about the termination of parental rights.

Termination of parental rights in Texas forever ends a parent-child relationship between a child and one or both parents, including alleged (possible) parents. It is an ongoing legal action with serious and significant consequences. Termination prevents an adult from being able to make subsequent claims of a child's rights, can end child support obligations, and helps make a child eligible for adoption. Learn about termination of parental rights in this article. 

What does termination of parental rights mean in Texas?

Termination of parental rights is the legal process where the court ends the parent-child relationship that was in place between a child and one or both of the child's parents.

Termination of parental rights includes ending legal rights that were or could have been in place between a child and an alleged (possible) father(s).

Note: Texas law allows for parental rights to be gained back (reinstated) in a very narrow set of circumstances. Reinstatement is very complex and does not change the fact that termination is almost always a permanent termination of parental rights. Read Requirements for the Reinstatement of Parental Rights to learn more.

How are parental rights terminated in Texas?

Parental rights can only be terminated by court order in Texas. A signed voluntary relinquishment or waiver of interest, or even a failure to file with the paternity registry, is not enough to forever end parental rights. A judge must sign a court order to end those rights forever.

A parent can sign an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights if the parent agrees that a court should terminate his or her parental rights to a child.

Note: A child must be at least 48 hours old before an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights may be signed.

An alleged (possible) father can also sign an affidavit of waiver of interest in the child if he agrees to give up any interest he has in the child (or unborn child).

An alleged (possible) father can also fail to file a Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity, making it possible for a court to terminate any rights an alleged (possible) father might have had to the child.

Who can file a termination of parental rights case?

Either parent can file a termination of parental rights case. 

If you are not the child’s parent, you can file a termination of parental rights case if you are:

  • A person with court-ordered access or visitation to the child (ordered by a court from another state or country); 
  • A man alleging he is the father of the child;
  • A foster parent of the child placed by DFPS in your home for at least 12 months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the termination case; 
  • A prospective adoptive parent who has been given standing under a statement to confer standing; 
  • You are the child’s grandparent, great-grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew, and: 
    • Both parents are dead; 
    • Both parents, the surviving parent, or managing conservator agree; 
  • The child’s present circumstances will significantly harm the child’s physical health or emotional development; 
  • You have had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least 6 months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the termination case with the court and you are not a foster parent; 
  • You have been designated the managing conservator of the child in an affidavit of relinquishment or have been given written consent to adopt the child; or 
  • You have lived with the child and the child’s parent, guardian, or conservator for at least 6 months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the termination case, and the child’s parent, guardian, or conservator has died.

What entities and agencies can file to terminate?

The following representatives and agencies may also file a termination of parental rights case:

  • The guardian of the child’s person or estate;
  • The child filing the lawsuit through an authorized representative (such as a guardian ad litem or attorney ad litem);
  • A governmental entity;
  • The Department of Family and Protective Services; or
  • A licensed child-placing agency.

Read Texas Family Code 102.003 through 102.006.

When can I file a parental rights termination case?

A termination of parental rights case can usually be filed (turned in) before or at any time after a child is born. The reason someone asks a judge to terminate parental rights will affect (and sometimes shorten) the period of commencement of the case. For example:

  • A termination case based on the other parent's failure to support a child for a year must be filed no later than six months after the parent begins to support the child (if at all).
  • A mistaken paternity case must be filed by a man no later than two years after he finds out or has reason to believe he is not the child's genetic father.
  • A foster parent who has had possession of a child for at least 12 months must file a termination case no later than 90 days after the foster parent's possession ends.

Can I just sign a form to relinquish my rights?

No. A parent can sign an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights if the parent agrees that a court should terminate his or her parental rights to a child.

A signed voluntary relinquishment or waiver of interest, or even a failure to file with the paternity registry, is not enough to forever end parental rights.  A judge must sign a court order to end those rights forever.

Note: A child must be at least 48 hours old before an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights may be signed.

What gets decided in a termination of parental rights case?

A termination case ends the legal relationship between a child and his or her parent(s), including the rights of alleged (possible) father(s). A termination of parental rights case can also (but does not have to):

  • Name a managing conservator (or joint managing conservators),
  • Name a possessory conservator,
  • Order child support to end or to be paid,
  • Terminate a child's right to inherit from or through his or her parent,
  • Change a child's name, and
  • Make other orders specific to your case.

The court will also consider what is in the child's best interest.

Note: The best interest standard is applied to almost all termination grounds, and select grounds can be raised without that determination.

Read Texas Family Code 161.001(b)(2), 161.002, 161.005(a),(h), 161.006 for the law.

What is considered in the best interest of the child?

Under Texas law, courts consider keeping a child with their parents to be in the child's best interest.

However, the court is given broad discretion to decide if there is clear and convincing evidence that termination is in a child's best interest. Read Best Interest of the Child Standard to find out the factors the court considers, also known as the Holley factors.

Note: The law sets out a higher standard-proof beyond a reasonable doubt-for termination cases involving Native American children.

A trial court also considers evidence of the grounds for termination in its best interest finding.

What are the reasons a parent’s rights can be terminated without an agreement?

Termination of parental rights requires a very high legal standard, known as "clear and convincing evidence." Some of the reasons a judge can terminate a parent's rights without an agreement (called "involuntary" termination) include:

  • The parent abandoned or did not support the child and expressed no intent to return.
  • The parent endangered the child.
  • The parent engaged in certain criminal conduct.
  • The parent is otherwise unfit.
  • The parent abused or neglected another child.
  • The parent kept the child out of school or away from home.
  • The parent is imprisoned and cannot care for the child for two or more years.

Read the law about involuntary termination of parental rights grounds in Texas Family Code 161.001(b)  through Texas Family Code 161.003. 

Can the child’s other parent and I agree on the terms of the parental rights termination?

Sometimes. This would be a "voluntary" termination of parental rights case, where the parent(s) whose rights are to be ended agree to the termination by completing the required forms or by asking the judge to terminate their rights.

A judge might approve an agreed Order of Termination if the proposed orders about the children are in their best interest. But terminating one parent's rights is a very serious matter and courts do not take it lightly.

How does a termination of parental rights case impact child support?

Child support duties typically end when parental rights are terminated.

There are limited cases when a court will keep child support in place, even after a parent's rights have been terminated (where a parent is financially able and the child is in the substitute care of the department or where a parent engaged in certain criminal acts). See Texas Family Code 154.001 (a-1).

If termination of parental rights (and the resulting termination of child support) is not in the child's best interest, other options are available. A judge can make orders in the following types of cases without terminating parental rights to a child:

Is termination of parental rights required before I can adopt a child in Texas?

Yes, a court must generally terminate the parent-child relationship between the child and all of the child's living legal parents before a child becomes eligible for adoption.

However, termination of parental rights of both parents is not required in:

  • Step-parent adoptions. Here, the biological parent joins together with the step-parent to file the adoption suit. The parental rights of the parent who is married to the stepparent remain in force. You can read Stepparent Adoption in Texas to learn more about the process.
  • Adult adoptions. Adult adoptions in Texas do not require an order to terminate parental rights. Read Adult Adoptions in Texas to learn more.

Note: Termination of parental rights can also be joined together with an adoption case. In combined cases, the court terminates parent-child relationships at the same adoption hearing. Read Texas Adoption Law for more information.

Do I need a lawyer for my parental rights termination case?

Yes, it's a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your termination of parental rights case, even if you decide not to hire one. Termination cases can be complicated, and your parental and financial rights may be at risk. A family law lawyer can explain your rights and options.

It's essential to talk with a family law lawyer if any of the following are true:

  • You are afraid for your or your children's safety;
  • Your case is contested;
  • The respondent has a lawyer; or
  • You need child support.

What if I need orders right away?

If you need orders right away, you may ask a judge to make a temporary restraining order (TRO), temporary orders, or both. A temporary restraining order lasts until you can have a temporary order hearing. Temporary orders usually last until the case is over.  Read Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) to learn more.

How do I start the termination of parental rights process?

Talk with a family law lawyer about starting the termination of parental rights process and what you will need to begin a case. You can also talk to a lawyer for free at a legal clinic. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

  • Use our Legal Help Directory to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office, or self-help center in your area.
  • Check our Legal Events & Clinics page to learn if there is an upcoming free legal clinic near you.
  • Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.

Note: TexasLawHelp.org does not provide termination of parental rights forms for any reason other than mistaken paternity. For information and for forms on filing a termination of parental rights case due to mistaken paternity, read and use the guide I want to terminate my rights. I mistakenly thought I was the genetic father (Termination).

Does it cost anything to file an Original Petition to Terminate the Parent-Child Relationship?

Yes. When you file for termination of parental rights, you must usually pay a "filing fee." 

If you need to have parties served, you must also pay an "issuance fee" and a "service fee."

These fees vary by county. Contact the district clerk's office in the county where the child lives to learn the fees.

If you don't have enough money to pay the fees, you can ask a judge to waive the fees by completing and filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. Read Court Fees & Fee Waivers for more information and forms.

Where can I read the law about termination of parental rights?

Read the laws about termination of parental rights in Chapter 161 of the Texas Family Code.

You can also read the laws about custody (conservatorship) in Chapter 153 of the Texas Family Code.

What if I’m afraid for my safety or for the safety of my children?

If there has been violence or you feel that you or the children are not safe, get help right away by calling one of the organizations listed below. You may be able to get free legal help.

For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:

●    Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA), 844-303-7233.

In an emergency, call 911.

Find out more in TexasLawHelp.org's Protection from Violence or Abuse section.

Related Guides

  • I want to terminate my rights. I mistakenly thought I was the genetic father (Termination).

    Paternity

    How to ask a judge to terminate your parental rights if you were mistakenly named as a child’s legal father.
  • I want to reinstate my parental rights after termination.

    Parental Rights Reinstatement

    How to ask the court to give back ("reinstate") your parental rights after they have been terminated by DFPS.
  • I need a custody order. I am the child's parent (SAPCR).

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    This guide tells you how to ask for a custody, visitation, child support, medical support, and dental support order.
  • I need a custody order. I am not the child's parent (SAPCR).

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    How to ask for a custody, visitation, child support, and medical support order. For grandparents and other nonparents.
  • I need to change a custody, visitation, or support order (Modification).

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    This guide tells you how to modify an existing custody, visitation, child support, and medical/dental support order.
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