California Family Law Basics: Understanding the Legal Basis for Terminating Parental Rights to a Child

The “termination of parental rights” is a process that completely severs any and all legal ties a parent has with a child. As a result of the termination, that parent no longer has any obligations towards, and relinquish all legal rights, over the children.

A termination of parental rights is an extreme process, and in most cases, it is irreversible. That’s why the regulations that govern it in California are very strict and the final decision lies with the court. A termination of parental rights will only be granted if it is in the best interest of a child and if very specific conditions are met.

Termination is also an important part of the stepparent adoption proceedings. In a stepparent adoption, the biological parent can consent to the adoption, effectively waiving his or her rights to the child. Sometimes, however, the biological parent may be unwilling to do so, or in other cases, he or she cannot be located or contacted. In any case, the court may terminate the biological parent’s rights and allow for an adoption without their consent.

Again, however, strict criteria must be met in order for the court to have legal grounds to do so. In this blog, we discuss the three statutory bases that exist in California for a termination of parental rights in the context of stepparent adoption.

Willful Failure

The first legal ground with which a court may decide to terminate parental rights and grant adoption to a stepparent is called a “willful failure.” The absent parent will be considered guilty of willful failure if they haven’t communicated with and supported their child for more than a year. Both conditions (i.e., a failure to communicate and a failure to support) must occur at the same time in order for the parental rights to be terminated.

A stepparent filing an adoption request with the court must also present a Petition to Terminate Rights. Social services will investigate the circumstances of the case and the court will make the final decision based on the results of the investigation. We can help with all aspects of going this route and advise you of your best options.


Parental rights termination may also occur on the grounds of abandonment. As is the case with willful failure, abandonment means that a biological parent failed to communicate with or support their child for more than a year. The major difference is that only one of these conditions must occur. Another difference is that the court will decide whether abandonment has occurred not as a part of the adoption request and process but rater during a separate hearing.

Moreover, a separate agency will investigate abandonment, and a stepparent requesting adoption will have to cover the cost of the investigation out of their own pocket. Efforts must also be made on the part of the stepparent to communicate with the biological parent. If they can’t be reached, their relatives must be notified about the abandonment action and adoption request. We can help with all aspects of going this route and advise you of your best options.

Termination of Alleged Father

The third and last legal reason on the basis of which parental termination may be pursued is “termination of alleged father.” It applies to cases where the birth certificate of a child doesn’t mention the biological father. In such circumstances, the biological father is legally deemed unknown, even if there is an alleged father. The alleged father must be notified of the adoption and parental rights termination process. Upon receiving the notice, he will have 30 days to file a paternity action. A failure to do so may result in termination of parental rights. We can help with all aspects of going this route and advise you of your best options.

Contact Us

Many adoption processes are complicated and trying to take care of all the red tape and legal requirements on your own can be emotionally draining and overwhelming. This is especially true if the issue of parental rights termination is involved.

If you are a stepparent and need help getting the process started, you need assistance from a trusted California family law attorney. Please contact Grey Legal Group to receive the support that you need. Call us at 951-587-8970 or contact us here today.

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The Grey Legal Group

At The Grey Legal Group, we believe in helping all families with their legal needs so they can be protected on your journey back to a calmer, happier place of stability. Whether it is divorce, child custody, guardianship, domestic violence, or adoption, we have seen it all before and we can help you through it. With the legal knowledge and experience we bring to the table, we will be certain to find the best and most efficient solution to your situation.

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