Indiana law assumes that it is almost always in the child's best interest for both parents to support the child. Even if one parent does not want to see the child or pay child support, she cannot give up the privilege or obligation to do so. A court may order the termination of parental rights in Indiana, but it will generally do so only to protect a child who is being neglected, abused or adopted.
Parental Rights in Indiana
Parental rights encompasse all the legal, social and financial responsibility that a parent has to his child, for example, the duty to provide a home and education and the obligation to pay child support. These responsibilities come with benefits, including the right to custody or visitation of the child. Indiana law does not separate parental rights from parental responsibilities – the two go hand in hand. So, even if a parent wanted to stop seeing the child, he would still have to support her. This rule applies even if the child is in foster care or another out-of-home placement.
Role of the Courts
Only a court can order the termination of parental rights in Indiana. Usually, the Department of Child Services will petition the court to terminate the parent-child relationship if it believes that the child is at risk of suffering harm, abuse or neglect. For example, the Department might file a petition if a parent has a pattern of criminal activity or has failed to fix alcohol or substance-abuse problems. The court will hear evidence before deciding whether the termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Parents who face having their parental rights taken from them are entitled to make their case before the judge.
A parent cannot petition the court to remove his own parental rights even if he wants nothing more to do with the child. The only exception is an adoption situation. If the child is being adopted, then the biological parents can voluntarily give up their parental rights. Similarly, if the parent with whom the child lives re-marries and her new spouse wishes to adopt the child, then the non-custodial parent could voluntarily terminate his parental rights so the new spouse could adopt the child. The adoption agency or custodial parent would initiate court proceedings to obtain the necessary court order.
Effect of Terminating the Parent-Child Relationship
Termination of parental rights in Indiana ends the parent-child relationship. Once the court issues a termination order, the parent loses all his rights to visitation and is no longer required to support the child. He might have to pay past-due child support, however. The proposed adoption may now be finalized, and the child may be eligible to receive certain benefits as a ward of the state.