Can I terminate the other parent’s parental rights?

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded


Sometimes a parent makes bad choices that have a negative impact on the children. The other parent or a guardian may feel like it would be best if the parental rights of the parent making bad choices are terminated. But can the parent or guardian terminate the other parent’s rights?  The answer is – sometimes.  

One way a parent’s rights could be terminated is after the Department of Human Services (DHS) or the police are involved due to abuse or neglect of a child after a parent has been given an opportunity to correct these issues but has failed to do so.  In that case, the State would file a Petition asking for termination of parental rights. 

Sometimes, however, a parent or guardian will try to terminate a parent’s rights even when DHS and the police are not involved.  In some cases, termination of one parent’s rights is desired in order to allow for an adoption by a step-parent. In other situations, a parent or guardian wants to terminate rights because of the bad behavior of the other parent. This is called a “private termination”.  A decision to try to terminate parental rights should not be rushed into.  There are strict requirements for terminating a parent’s rights.

NOTE: If a step-parent wants to adopt, it may not be necessary to go through a termination of parental rights if the other parent consents to the adoption. In that situation, a petition for adoption can be filed immediately without going through a termination proceeding, but the written consent to adopt must be filed along with the petition. Without the consent, a termination proceeding must take place before the adoption can be filed.

In order to terminate parental rights, a parent or guardian (called “the petitioner”) can file a petition in juvenile court asking the court to terminate the other parent’s rights.  The parent whose rights could be terminated (called “the respondent”) will need to be served with notice of the court action, and they may have the right to have an attorney appointed for them.  The Petitioner may be responsible for paying for the cost of that attorney as well as the cost of a guardian ad litem to represent the child/children if the Court appoints a guardian ad litem.  If the respondent does not agree to the termination, there will be a trial and the petitioner must prove that the grounds to terminate parental rights are met.  The grounds to terminate include:

  • The parent has abandoned the child;
  • The parent has failed to provide financial support without good cause after being ordered to do so;
  • The parent has been determined to be a chronic substance abuser, has committed multiple domestic assaults, and has abducted or improperly retained the child;
  • The parent has been imprisoned for a crime against the child, the child’s sibling, or another child in the home;
  • The parent will be imprisoned for five years or more;
  • The parent has been convicted of a felony sex offense against a minor, the parent is divorced from or was never married to the minor's other parent, and the parent is serving a minimum sentence of five years for the offense.

Proving that a parent has abandoned a child can be a very complicated process.  The law provides a long list of factors that the court can consider when determining whether a parent has abandoned a child.  Often, if the parent has made any attempt to contact the child or shows any sort of commitment to the child, then that parent’s rights won’t be terminated.

A petitioner should be aware that terminating a parent’s rights means that the respondent no longer has an obligation to financially support the child.  All child support orders will end after his or her rights are terminated.  Additionally, the child will no longer be able to automatically inherit from that parent when that parent dies.

Since courts want parents to be responsible for their children, even if the petitioner has a strong argument to terminate, there is no guarantee that the court will terminate.  Also, where the child receives public assistance, the State has an interest in maintaining the parental rights of both parents so that the state can get money back from that parent. 

Talk to a lawyer before filing a petition for termination.  The attorney can assess your case and how likely it is to terminate the parent’s rights.  

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
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If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Oct 22, 2020

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