Every parent has both obligations and rights concerning their children.
For instance, they must care for their children’s needs, such as providing food, housing, clothing, education, medical care, and so on. They also have a right to maintain frequent contact with their children.
These rights and obligations continue even after a marriage dissolves but are there any circumstances when they do not apply?
Can a parent forego parental rights and responsibilities voluntarily—or even have them removed by the court?
What happens if a parent repeatedly fails in their duties with their child or puts the child in danger? What can you do as the other parent?
Here we consider the situations where it is possible to relinquish or have parental rights terminated in Alberta…
Table of Contents
- Child’s best interests
- How can the parent-child relationship be ended in Alberta?
- The voluntary termination of parental rights in Alberta
- Involuntary termination of parental rights
Child’s best interests
In all matters concerning the welfare of children in Alberta, the family law courts must place the child’s best interests above all other considerations.
The general view is that every child benefits from contact with both parents and, wherever possible, both parents should be involved in the decision-making when raising their child.
This generally holds true until it is proven otherwise. The preferences of either parent are seen as a secondary consideration when the court makes such decisions.
In cases involving parental rights, the judge will generally consider the following first and foremost:
- The physical and mental health of the child
- The emotional wellbeing of the child
- The child’s affection towards each parent and other close family members
- The parenting skills of parents/other parties
- The stability of the living situation
How can the parent-child relationship be ended in Alberta?
In most situations, the termination of parental rights is the last thing anybody wants. The parent-child relationship is central to our society and there are few good reasons for disrupting it.
Accordingly, very few cases in Alberta lead to a judge (or parent) seriously considering ending it.
Inquiries about the termination of parental rights in Alberta are generally made for the following reasons:
- Post-divorce hostility between the parents:
In some divorces, one parent has sole physical custody of the child and may seek to terminate the parental rights of the other parent for reasons of convenience or to avoid conflict.
However, this alone is mostly not a sufficient reason for the court to act (the best interests of the child are the primary consideration).
- Non-payment of child support:
The support of both parents is seen as healthy and necessary for the child’s development. Child support is a way for a noncustodial parent to contribute financially to the combined effort.
If the noncustodial parent argues that they rarely see the child so the relationship should be terminated to avoid paying child support to save money, this is generally not a sufficient reason for terminating the relationship.
In very rare cases in Alberta, the parent-child relationship is terminated—either voluntarily by the parent or by court order…
The voluntary termination of parental rights in Alberta
Given the extremely high value placed on the parent-child relationship in Alberta, few reasons convince a court to end it. The main justification for voluntarily terminating parental rights is in adoption cases but even this is subject to court approval.
Adoption by a step-parent
If a stepparent wants to formally adopt a child, both of the birth parents must consent to terminate parental rights or have these rights terminated by the court.
If a biological parent does not consent, he or she has the right to object in-person to it during the court proceedings.
With voluntary termination cases, the court will want to understand the motivations of both parties for their decision before supporting the action. If the primary motivation is to avoid payment of child support and it is not in the child’s best interests, the application will be rejected.
Involuntary termination of parental rights
There are only a couple of reasons where a judge will forcibly remove the parental rights of a biological parent of a child.
1. No relationship with the child (abandonment)
Sometimes, after a couple separates, one parent loses contact with a child. He or she may move to another province and never return, for instance.
The custodial parent may seek to remove the noncustodial parent’s rights due to abandonment and/or failure to make child support payments, and the court may decide to terminate the relationship.
2. Risk to the child (neglect or cruelty)
If a parent abandons a child or becomes a risk to a child physically, mentally or emotionally, he or she may be removed from the child’s life by terminating the parental relationship. However, this is usually a last resort after all possible solutions have been explored.
To terminate parental rights, neglect or cruelty must be shown to be intentional and on-going or other remedies will be sought by the court.
The best interests of the child cannot be stressed enough in these cases. Unless someone is prepared to take on parental rights in place of the biological parent whose rights are removed, the preference of the court is generally to seek solutions other than termination of parental rights.
Ultimately, however, in rare cases where the interests of the child are not best served by continuing the child-parent relationship, the court will consider it. And, in extremely rare cases where the parental rights of both parents are removed by the court, the Alberta government may take legal custody of the child.
Speak to a lawyer at Jennings Family Law in Calgary during a confidential case evaluation if you need to enquire about terminating parental rights.