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Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of parental rights is a court order that permanently severs the legal parent-child relationship when the court finds one or both parents to be unfit, or when one or both parents give up their parental rights so that an adoption can take place. For information on stepparent adoption, see our Stepparent Adoption Guide.

IMPORTANT: Termination of parental rights IS NOT granted by the courts on request or by mutual agreement of the parents as a means of solving visitation or support disputes.


California courts may terminate parental rights in several ways:

In Juvenile Dependency Court. The child becomes a ward of the court when someone (usually CPS) reports mistreatment. Termination is involuntary when the court finds that the parent(s) have abused, neglected, or abandoned a child, and/or that the parents suffer from some mental or physical incapacity, including substance abuse, that prevents them from caring for the child.  

In Family Court Adoption proceedings. Both birth parents may voluntarily terminate their parental rights when relinquishing the child for an agency or independent adoption. 

In Family Court Stepparent or Domestic Partner Adoption proceedings. Termination is with the consent of the non-custodial parent, or without their consent if the court finds that the parent has willfully abandoned the child.

In Family Court Parentage actions. The father's parental rights can be terminated without his consent if the court finds that his continuing relationship is not in the child's best interest.

In Family Court Emancipation proceedings. A minor at least 14 years old may petition the court to become an adult before the age of 18. This requires written permission from the parent(s) and a court finding that granting emancipation is not contrary to the minor's best interest. The granting of emancipation terminates parental rights, because the child is legally an adult.


California Family Law: Practice and Procedure KFC 115 .L87 Vol. 5, Chap. 171, Termination of Parental Rights
This is an excellent source for sorting out the circumstances and the law behind voluntary and involuntary termination.  For forms and pleadings, see the next reference.
Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.

California Forms of Pleading and Practice  KFC 1010 .A65 C3 (Ready Reference)
This set offers analysis, references to the codes you will need to read, and sample forms and pleadings. 
Vol. 2, Chap. 12A, Adoptions—Termination of Parental Rights
Vol. 20, Chap. 245, Emancipation of Minors
Vol. 28, Chap. 328, Juvenile Courts: Dependency Proceedings
Electronic Access: On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.

California Jurisprudence 3d KFC 80 .C35 (Ready Reference)
Vol. 32, Family Law, §§329-390
This legal encyclopedia provides details of the types of termination, with references to the governing law and court decisions on these matters. 
Electronic Access: On the Law Library's computers, using Westlaw Next.   

California Juvenile Dependency Practice KFC 1196 .C35
This manual sorts out the complex and detailed processes of juvenile dependency court.
Electronic Access: On the Law Library's computers, using Onlaw.

CFLP: California Family Law Practice KFC 115 .C35
Vol. 2, Tab G, Section XVIII, Termination of Parental Rights
This resource explains termination law through a discussion of important court opinions on the subject.  

Do Your Own California Adoption KFC 132 .Z33 (Self-Help)
Attorneys wrote this "plain English" book for the layperson. It assumes there is a stepparent or domestic partner adoption in progress, but it has some good plain-English text about termination and willful abandonment. The book comes with a CD that includes forms and other documents required for this stepparent adoption process.


You can find the official, fill-in-the-blank forms necessary for your case at:

In addition to these forms, termination cases involve drafting original court pleadings. The library research materials listed above contain sample language to aid you in the wording of your pleadings.


Many separate but interrelated sections of California Family, Penal and Welfare and Institutions Codes govern these complex issues. Here are just a few:

California Codes are available in print at the Law Library, and for free on the Internet.


  • Deering's California Code Annotated (KFC30.5 .D4) (Compact)
  •  West's Annotated California Codes (KFC30 .W48)


These websites will get you started, but they are no substitute for the official law or for the authoritative material in the Law Library. The Library's print and online sources will help to clarify the issues and explain the law and procedure in more detail.    

California Courts Self-Help Website:

DSS (California Department of Social Services):

National Center for State Courts. Adoption/Termination of Parental Rights Resource Guide:  

updated 4/13 mpj