Parental rights are some of the most basic rights we have as human beings. The right to raise your child, spend time together and make decisions about upbringing are held dear to most parents in Alberta.
Along with these rights comes a range of responsibilities for looking after a child’s wellbeing and acting in their best interests. These include:
- Ensuring access to the necessaries of life
- Consenting to medical, dental, and other health-related treatment
- Deciding on educational matters
- Deciding on cultural, linguistic, religious, and spiritual upbringing
- Deciding where the child will live and with whom
- Managing the child’s physical, psychological, emotional and financial wellbeing
These obligations apply regardless of the circumstances.
But what happens when one of the parents is not around for an extended period? If a parent does not fulfill their obligations, can parental rights be removed in Alberta?
Table of Contents
- Obligations of the biological parents in Alberta
- Parental absence and the loss of rights in Alberta
- Can an absent father lose parental rights?
- Can parents choose to terminate their parental rights?
Obligations of the biological parents in Alberta
Every parent in Alberta has legal obligations to his or her child, regardless of the status of the marriage, adult interdependent relationship or other relationship between the mother and father.
Of these obligations, the two most important are to protect and support the child and to provide the necessities of life.
- Protecting and supporting your child: parents are expected to support the physical, mental, and emotional needs of their children.
- Providing the basic necessities of life: parents have the responsibility to meet the food, shelter, medical and educational needs of the child.
Parental absence and the loss of rights in Alberta
It doesn’t matter if the parents of a child live together or separately, the parental rights and responsibilities still apply.
However, an absent parent may not be able to fulfill the legal obligations that are incumbent on them as the biological mother or father of a child.
How long does a parent have to be absent to lose rights?
There is no prescribed amount of time in Alberta that leads to the automatic loss of parental rights. Sometimes, there is a good reason for a parent to be absent, and it is beyond their control.
Each case is treated individually by the family court system in Alberta but, generally speaking, if a parent is absent from their child’s life for months on end, he or she must have a valid reason or the other parent can bring the matter to the court’s attention.
Sometimes, a parent is absent but does make legitimate attempts to contact or meet the child. This does not constitute grounds to remove parental rights.
In extreme cases, the loss of parental rights can be ordered by the Alberta courts. However, a judge usually needs to be satisfied that no other solution is available, and it is in the best interests of the child to do this.
The loss of parental rights means a parent cannot participate in any decisions regarding the child’s future.
Can an absent father lose parental rights?
For an absent father to lose parental rights, the mother must generally petition the court and have solid grounds to request the removal of these rights.
This generally means that the biological father must have negated his responsibilities as a parent and been absent (without contact) for a considerable period.
It will then be up to the court to decide how to address the situation. In the majority of cases, ending parental rights is the final option and one which most judges in Alberta take extremely reluctantly.
However, it may be considered in the following circumstances:
- The child has been harmed mentally or physically
- The basic needs of the child are not being met
- The parent is convicted of a serious crime
- The parent has a long history of not paying child support
- The parent has substance abuse issues
- The parent has deserted or abandoned the child
Can parents choose to terminate their parental rights?
Parents can rarely choose to terminate their parental rights in Alberta. In the few cases where parental rights are terminated, it is ordered by the court as a last resort, when no other solution is possible.
No parent in Alberta can escape the obligation for child support payments by terminating their parental rights. Every parent is expected to financially support their child and this will be enforced by the court because it is generally in the child’s best interests.
We should not forget that, in Alberta’s family court system, the child’s best interests are considered the standard for making decisions—not the parent’s best interests.
So, if your child has become a financial “burden”, you would need to appeal to the court to adjust the child support order rather than terminate parental rights.
Is the consent of parents required to terminate parental rights in Alberta?
A judge does not require the consent of the parents to order the termination of parental rights because the best interests of the children is the standard used.
Whether you are an absent parent concerned about parental rights or a parent wondering about how to apply for the removal of parental rights from your ex-spouse, speak to an experienced lawyer at Jennings Family Law in Calgary for a confidential case evaluation.