What Does “Terminate Parental Rights” Mean?
When someone is wanting to have another parent’s “rights” terminated, they are asking the courts to find that one parent is no longer legally a parent. This would result in the parent whose rights were terminated would no longer have any rights to the child, including parenting time and decision making. In some cases, it may also mean that that parent would no longer have any responsibilities to the child, including child support payments.
This is not something Canadian courts would typically consider. The courts don’t really consider parents as having “rights” to their children but instead place a high priority on the child’s best interests, and usually, those best interests include having both parents involved in the child’s life. But there are times when it may be better for the child if they don’t have a relationship with one (or both) of their parents and though this isn’t considered “termination” of a parent’s responsibilities, awarding sole decision-making to the other parent may be the result.
What Are Acceptable Grounds for Awarding Sole Decision-making in Canada?
As mentioned above, this is not an action the courts take lightly. There are few circumstances in which they’ll agree to take this action. When the courts do award sole decision-making, it’s likely only after all other options have been exhausted. The scenarios in which they’ll consider it include:
- The parent is abusive.
This clearly goes against the child’s best interests.
- The parent has been absent.
Abandoning a child and refusing to make contact with them can lead to an award of sole decision-making.
- The parent has been negligent in caring for the child.
For example, the parent in question doesn’t provide adequate food or clothing, doesn’t take the child to routine medical exams or for care when ill or injured, etc.
- A stepparent is adopting the child.
The adoption can only take place if the birth parent consents or a court determines that it’s in the child’s best interests to move the adoption forward.
The imperative is the child’s welfare and safety.
What Are Situations in Which the Courts Likely Won’t Award Sole Decision-Making?
There are two specific situations that parents bring up when requesting sole decision-making or terminating the other parent’s ability to have parenting time, and the courts often reject these.
- Stop paying child support.
The parent paying child support may want to stop paying, especially if they have little or no contact with the child. The courts usually view child support as the right of the child, even if the parent has no interest in seeing the child. It should also be noted that not paying child support does not typically mean the parent is no longer allowed parenting time with the child.
- Contentious parental relationship.
If the divorced parents cannot maintain a courteous relationship, one or the other may request the court award them sole decision-making. However, given the courts place a high priority on having both parents involved in the child’s life, the likelihood of it agreeing to terminating the other parent’s ability to have parenting time due to conflicts isn’t likely to succeed.
When it comes to difficult parental relationships, there’s another possibility other than trying to seek sole decision-making or terminating the other parent’s ability to have parenting time: Work with an experienced mediator who is impartial and who can help both parents listen to what the other is saying. When there are specific issues in the relationship, such as late child support payments or frequent requests to change the parenting schedule, it may benefit for the parents to use the mediation process. Then, the extra stress of beginning a legal process, such as seeking an order for sole decision-making, might be avoided, and the child can enjoy having both parents in their life with as little conflict as possible.
What Does it Take to Start the Process of Seeking an Order for Sole Decision-Making?
If the situation fits into one of the scenarios as described above, the first step is to contact an experienced family lawyer. Seeking a sole decision-making order is a highly complex legal proceeding. The lawyer can help you determine the best approach for your case, what evidence needs to be collected (whether it involves the child being abused or neglected), and potentially reach out to experts or eyewitnesses to corroborate the accusations.
The lawyer can also help you understand what the courts look for and expect to see if they’re going consider awarding sole decision-making.
Then, the applicant will fill out an application for the jurisdiction where the child lives. This application will include the basics of whose decision-making is being terminated and the reasons why.
The court may then begin an evaluative process to understand if the termination is genuinely in the child’s best interests. That may involve using a therapist or social worker to interview the relevant parties and provide a professional opinion. Other witnesses, such as medical professionals, teachers, and other caregivers, may also weigh in.
Each side will have the opportunity to present evidence for and against termination, and each side is entitled to its own legal representation. Once all evidence is submitted, the court will examine it and make a decision.
If one parent disagrees with the court’s decision, they will have the opportunity to appeal it.
What Should I Do if I Want to Seek Sole Decision-Making against My Ex?
Call Panko Collaborative Law & Mediation at 306-518-8107 for a consultation. Our team of collaborative, holistic family lawyers understands that you didn’t reach this decision lightly and that you want what’s best for your child. We recognize how stressful this process can be, and we’re here to help you through it gently and compassionately.