How Does Termination of Parental Rights Affect Child Support Obligations?
How Does Termination of Parental Rights Affect Child Support?
Under Georgia law, a child’s biological parents have an absolute obligation to provide financial support for the child unless and until a court formally terminates their legal parent-child relationship. However, termination of the parent-child relationship is not the same as termination of parental rights.
Parents’ Obligation to Pay Child Support: Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
In most cases, termination of parental rights occurs either right before or in conjunction with the adoption process. When a child is formally adopted through the Georgia courts, the biological parents’ (or legal parent’s, in the case of a previous stepparent adoption) legal relationship with their child comes to an end. The adoptive parents (or parent) takes on the rights and responsibilities of biological parents, and these responsibilities include the obligation to provide financial support for the child.
Under certain circumstances, a mother or father can also lose his or her parental rights involuntarily. Georgia courts will involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights if termination is in the child’s best interests and:
- The parent “wantonly and willfully” failed to pay child support pursuant to a court order for 12 months or more;
- The parent subjected the child to “aggravated circumstances”;
- The parent abandoned the child; or
- The child, due to a lack of parental control, is a dependent child and “reasonable efforts to remedy the circumstances have been unsuccessful or were not required, such cause of dependency is likely to continue or will not likely be remedied, and the continued dependency will cause or is likely to cause serious physical, mental, emotional, or moral harm to such child.”
When a judge terminates a mother’s or father’s parental rights involuntarily, the obligation to pay child support terminates. This is because all legal rights and responsibilities a parent has to their child cease after a court terminates that parent’s rights. However, a parent will still be responsible for any financial obligations that existed prior to the termination taking place. That being said, the law is not intended to incentivize non-payment of support or abandonment of a child in order to avoid the obligation to provide financial support on an ongoing basis and will not terminate the rights of a parent in order to accomplish that goal. The termination of parental rights is one of the most extreme and difficult remedies that can be sought and is typically the last step any court will take.
Questions about Voluntary or Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights and Child Support?
If you have questions about your rights or obligations as a parent in Georgia, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation. Weekend appointments are available. To speak with an experienced Georgia child support attorney at Stearns-Montgomery and Proctor, please call 678-971-3413 or request an appointment online today.