What is a Severance of Parental Rights?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Severance of parental rights is the termination of a parent’s rights and responsibility to a child. When a court system severs a parent’s rights, this act makes it possible for another party to adopt the child, regardless of the parent’s wishes in the matter. The laws regarding the severance of parental rights may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most places, however, a parent’s rights are only severed because of extreme circumstances, such as abuse, neglect, or extended incarceration.

The severance of parental rights occurs as part of a legal process. When a parent’s rights are severed, a judge usually renders a court order stating that the parent’s right to be in the child’s life and his responsibility toward the child are terminated. This process is not taken lightly in most jurisdictions. In fact, it is usually reserved for situations in which neglect or abuse have occurred. In most cases, however, the legal system and child welfare organizations try to implement alternatives to terminating a parent’s rights before taking this irreversible step.


Most jurisdictions only sever parental rights when doing so seems to be in the best interest of a child. For example, a court may do this when a parent has been abusive to a child or is guilty of neglect. In some cases, a court will sever parental rights even when a parent has not been directly abusive, however. For instance, if a parent has allowed another party to abuse or neglect his child, a court may sever the parent's rights as well.

A judge may also order the severance of parental rights because of incarceration. This is unlikely to occur in the case of short-term prison sentences. If a parent is expected to remain in prison for all or most of a child’s formative years, however, a judge may consider this a reason to terminate his parental rights.

After the severance of parental rights, the child in question may be placed in foster care or adopted. If, however, the child in question still has one parent with parental rights, he may remain in that parent’s custody. In some cases, a child's extended family member becomes his foster parent, and later, his adoptive parent.

There are some cases in which the severance of parental rights is voluntary. For example, this may occur when a parent wants to allow a step parent to adopt his child. A parent may also give up his parental rights to avoid child support, but judges in many jurisdictions frown on this.



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