Termination of Parental Rights.

When can your parental rights be terminated in Minnesota?

It’s definitely not a happy topic, but parents facing involuntary termination of their parental rights need to know

some important information about when a court can take away such rights.  “Termination of parental rights” means that the court takes away any rights the parent had in regard to the child—custody, parenting time, decisions about the child’s upbringing or welfare.  It’s not a temporary decision that lets the parent still be involved in the child’s life.  If your parental rights are terminated, you can’t get them back by becoming a better parent; termination of parental rights is a permanent, irreversible determination.

First, a quick note:  if the child involved is an Indian child, you should talk with your attorney about other issues not discussed here that the court might consider in a termination of parental rights case due to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

In general, a court can terminate a parent’s rights based on any one of several circumstances.  One of those circumstances is abandonment.  It’s considered to be abandonment of a child when the parent deserts the child and intends to try to get away from his duties as a parent.  Whether or not the parent abandoned the child can depend on how long the parent was away from the child; for example, in one case, a mother was found to have abandoned her son when she had no contact with him for 10 months.

Just because a parent is in jail will not mean that the parent has abandoned his or her child.  If the jailed parent had a parental relationship with the child before being sent to jail, and the parent continued that relationship to the best of his ability while in jail (through letters, cards, visits, etc.), the parent can continue to have parental rights.   But, the fact of a parent being a jail can be used in combination with other factors, like neglect or abuse, to support termination of the parent’s rights.

A court can also terminate parental rights based on neglect of the child.  Don’t worry about being caught unaware by this one—no one is going to suddenly look at your child at school one day, decide the child has been neglected, and try to take away your parental rights.  Parental rights are only terminated based on neglect when there has been a continuous or repeated neglect of the child despite the efforts of a social services agency, or when the neglect is so bad that no social worker is realistically going to be able to do anything about.

The other main reason for termination of parental rights cases, when they happen, is a parent’s failure to provide for the child financially despite having been ordered to do so.  The “having been ordered to do so” part is important—your parental rights won’t be terminated if you simply are struggling to pay for all your child’s expenses.  Taking away a parent’s rights based on financial neglect only happens when the parent has been ordered to pay child support and fails to do so for no good reason.  If you have a good reason for failing to comply with a support order, your rights won’t be taken away.

So, you can see it’s an unpleasant, but serious issue that you may need to be aware of.  Hopefully, you won’t have any questions, but if you do, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or give me a call.

Thanks for reading my latest Mankato Family Law Blog post, any comments or questions feel free to post them below or email me directly at Jkohlmeyer@rokolaw.com

Jason Kohlmeyer
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota

Remember I’m not giving anyone legal advice, this is just an informational blog that hopefully will answer some basic questions and lead you to call an experienced Minnesota Divorce Lawyer.

About Jason Kohlmeyer

With over 14 years experience in high conflict family law cases, numerous awards, and frequent lecturer through both Minnesota and the United States on family law issues, Jason has decided to help folks through a blog, answering some of the most common questions that people have during divorce and family law cases


  1. krystal weis says:

    Is it possible to have somebodys rights terminated if they are paying child support but they havent seen the children in over a year and they dont try to have any contact or inquire about the children at all?

    • I suppose it is possible, but as a practical matter it’s pretty tough to convince a judge to terminate a father’s rights in Minnesota unless you can prove that he is unfit and it’s in the child’s best interests. If you get married it’s much easier for a step-parent to try and adopt.

  2. How do I start the process of letting my fiancé adopt my daughter, if the father of her has not seen her since fathers day 2012, has ran from the county trying numerous times to file child support on him, and he tells people she is not his, yet refuses to take a paternity test. He is agreeing to sign over his rights and we will talk of a contact order. But where do I start. they don’t have papers for me at the court house to just pick up and fill out.

    • Thanks for the comment, as you have found out doing an adoption is not just filling out a form or two, it is a bit complex. For example, if the case isn’t handled correctly you might be stuck doing a homestudy which can cost upwards of $4,000. Also, most Judges that I know of would not approve an adoption if you don’t have a lawyer because it would imply you couldn’t afford one and if you can’t afford a few thousand dollars for an adoption attorney then you can’t afford to adopt a child. Also you mention the county, if you are receiving any assistance (Medical assistance, cash, food stamps, etc..) the county will oppose the adoption, which will end the case.

      Also, I notice in your case you mention Fiance which of course means you’re not married to him yet. While not specific in the law, most judges that I practice in front of would much prefer you two to be married before they approve the adoption.

      So, to answer your question how do you start the process? You’ll need to go to an experienced family law attorney who has handled step-parent adoptions before, it’s not a hard case but it’s one that can be very easily screwed up. Best of luck.

      Jason Kohlmeyer

  3. Hello,

    I have a child where the father has not been paying his obligated child support for the last year. Also was ordered to get health insurance for my child and pay all medicals that occur. Since my son was born his father has not been in the picture. He comes and goes from his life. He was allowed to see him twice a week per our agreement in court and does not. He sees him maybe twice a month at most and goes 1-3 months at a time if not more without seeing him. He will randomly let me know he wants to see him but disappears or I get random texts demanding to see him and when I try to set something where it would work for me based on my schedule he gets mad. During the time that he is not around I do not know what he is up to. Nor do I trust him The few times that he did take my son for the day he would leave my son at his mother’s or sister’s houses and I would have to call everyone to find out where my son was so I could pick him up. I do have full legal and physical custody of my child. I am working at a good job and have been paying for my sons health insurance. My son is happy at home and it terrifies me to have his dad start to tell me that he wants to bring the police to my house to see my son because he has our old court order to see him. He has not been contacting me until recently this week and I do not trust him since he showed up at my parents house on hours he knows I work for my son. I have been raising my son and do no think he is a fit parent because he has not been around, seems stable, cannot have health insurance for my son or even bother to ever ask how he is doing since he disappears mostly. I want to know what I could do to terminate his parental rights.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I would appreciate any feedback on what steps I could take.

    Thank you :)

    • Rosa,

      Thanks for the comment. The short answer is that yes you could try and terminate his rights..but you need good cause and it’s highly unlikely a Court in Minnesota would grant it in this case. Unfortunately, It’s pretty common where one parent doesn’t exactly follow the order and the Court can’t do much about making a parent see his or her child. It’s frustrating, but it would be very difficult to get the court to cut him out of the child’s life, especially if he tries to see the child on occasion.

      A suggestion that I have is to go back and “tweak” the past court order. It sounds like you didn’t have an attorney and if that’s the case there are a lot of little fixes such as putting a 15 minute late provision in that means if he is more than 15 minutes late he forfeits that parenting time. There are some other safeguards that can be done too.

      Jason Kohlmeyer

  4. Just curious about something. I have a step daughter her mother and I are married. We have been together married for 2 yrs and we dated for 2 so it’s 4 rs total that the little one has been with me. Her birth father is currently in jail with a 609.222.1 (I assume that is subdivision 1 … I’m no attorney). I want to adopt her and I have been saving for some time to do that. I just found out that i can do it for less so I want to go for it!! the question is regarding the biofather. with the fact that he has sent her 1 or 2 cards in 6 yrs incarceration. Plus the fact that he has a history of drug related issues (not sure how much is on record) does any of that put him into the abandoned or potential threat box? I’m wondering if this is an open and shut case or if I need to get some muscle behind me and if so why? Btw when his sister or someone in his family saw in my wife’s facebook page that i was in the picture back 4 yrs ago he made it clear he was not in agreement, regarding her adoption, to his sister an then to my then girlfriend (wife now). Yet he never amped up any contact with the daughter. He is now due out in 1.5 months .. the middle of next month.

    Sorry for the verbosity of this post I’m just curious.

    • Well, this is a question I tend to get a lot. My short answer is that you need to get him to to agree to adopt. Why? Why not just file a TPR case against him? For two reasons. 1) that the odds of success are very low. If dad says he wants to be a father once he’s out of prison/jail most Judges are going to really give him the benefit of the doubt and not terminate and 2) It is insanely cheaper to go the adoption route. Assuming you can get an evidentiary hearing and the Judge doesn’t just deny the motion prior to a contested “trial” you’re looking at a motions filed, a day of trial, plus prep time and writing detailed findings and a memorandum of law, probably close to $10,000 and the odds of winning are low.

      Can you do it yourself? Well, you CAN in the sense it is possible to file the proper motions, the same way it’s POSSIBLE to drill into your own tooth and remove a cavity. It’s just it will be messy, painful and you won’t like the results.

      I would suggest talking to him about the benefit of signing the adoption papers (he won’t have to pay child support, insurance, etc) and see what happens.

      Good luck!


  5. I need some advice here and my comment will be very long so apologies in advance. My boyfriend (23) and his wife (21) got divorced earlier this year. They have 3 children, a boy (3) and 2 girls (2, 1) my boyfriend gets the kids every weekend. Whenever we get the kids, they show several signs of physical, emotional, and mental neglect. The boy has severe eczema, and both his skin and his reaction when I put the lotion on him shows that she is not doing this for him. He will be 4 in a few months and shows no signs of being potty trained or even that the mother has started trying. The children always come over filthy. When the mother is not working, she’s going out. She brings over various men and as soon as she breaks up with one, she moves in another one, which im sure is very confusing to those poor kids. She gives them candy 3 times a day at least. Her babysitter is her sister. The kids are left with her most of the time. She is sn extremely emotional and unstable woman who has tried to kill herself several times in the last couple months. She used to drive the kids around without a driver’s license and she used to drive around the 3 year old without a booster seat. She is also very emotionally volatile and almost every interaction with her results in violence, screaming, and threats. That being said, their father is also neglectful. Its not as severe but is still disconcerting. He leaves them in wet diapers for a long time because he cannot afford the amount of diapers they go through. He is also not working with them to ensure their development is on track, for example potty training, reading to them, and he does not put the eczema lotion on the boy either. As much as it hurts to say, I believe the best thing for these poor kids is to be taken from both parents and placed in a stable home. It is not their fault that their parents were so foolish as to put themselves in this situation and I do not believe they should have to suffer for their parents’ idiocy in having so many kids in such a short time at such young ages. Is there anything that can be done for these poor children or are they stuck in this situation? Any and all advice is appreciated. Thank you so much

  6. There is no edit comment button, so I’ll just say that the one who is suicidal is the babysitter that the children are left alone with most of the time. Everything else is about their mom

    • I should fix the edit comment problem! thanks. Now to answer your question:

      Well, that’s a situation you’ve got there. A few basics first, In Minnesota unless the parents are unfit and that’s hard to be, there is a presumption that the kids will stay with the Biological Parents. If they are causing injury to the kids it’s a different story.

      Remember, there is no law that says the kids get to grow up in the Huxtable Household (or Full House, or Leave it to Beaver) While I’ve no doubt there are parents who would do a much better job that is not enough reason to terminate parental rights.

      My suggestion? If you feel the kids need child protective services, give the police or your local social services a call and report the issues. It’s tough to do, but if you feel the kids are in danger it sounds like you should.

      Best of luck in this tough situation.


  7. My rights were terminated about 12 yrs ago. To make this real short. My daughter has now been causing problems in the home and they want her to stay in the family n I’m the only one willing/ able to do that so her current family wants it that way. Is this even a possibility?

    • Erica,

      Interesting question. If you’re talking about a CHIPS ( Child in need of protectives services) then it will be up to the county attorney/social worker/and judge. I haven’t seen this situation before, but I suspect those folks will not be very receptive to let you have the child back if your rights were terminated. If this is an out of court issue, then you really can pretty much do what you would like if everyone agrees.

      -Jason Kohlmeyer

      • There was a chips initially but that was closed when we gave up our parental rights and let the kids be placed with their paternal aunt who no longer wishes to care for my daughter after 13 years…..courts made a great call on that placement. We may have come to a better solution but I’m still curious…..my attorney seems to think if its a mutual agreement we should be ok.

  8. if we had a baby when we were under 18. He only stayed around til she was 1 than has seen her maybe 20 times since she was 1-4yrs old. And hasnt seen her ONCE since she was 4 and she is now 7. Can I get his parental rights terminated?

    • Maybe, but I would ask why would you do that? You’ll need a lawyer, cost will be several thousand dollars, and unless you’re remarried and have a new father to step in and adopt, the Judge will most likely not allow you to just terminate the dad’s rights. Then if you throw on the County and if you are receiving any assistance they will absolutely block the termination. While it might feel good to terminate his right, I don’t think it really benefits you in any way.


  9. I’ll try keeping this short and hopefully I will hear back soon from you. I’m a disabled veteran who has an almost 2 yr old son. I haven’t seen or had anything to do with him since he was born other than pay my court ordered child support for him. I have been thinking about signing my rights away. I’m curious about what the cost will be for me to give him up and how to go about doing that. The reason i’m giving him up is because i’m going downhill mentally and physically due to injuries while serving and thinking about his mom makes me want to kill myself and I believe he will be much better off with me not in the picture. When he’s an adult he could look me up if im still alive which gives me some peace and solis , she has been living with her current boyfriend for 2yrs now and claims to her friends that he is the father as well as they might be getting married soon due to being possibly pregnant. she is on county help which is why I was forced to pay support even though she has said she doesn’t want it from me. P.S. she also lied to the county about her living arrangements and income so im wondering if I should say something or just let it go when I give up my rights . I cant afford a lot since I know live on my pension and so im trying to figure out the costs. I want whats best for my son but can not be there for him mentally and physically like he needs. which is the main resaons why I want to do this . your advice is much apprectitated and welcome

    • Justin,

      Well, you’re in a tough spot. I’ll say that this can’t be an easy decision. A couple things I think you should know about your situation, the first being you typically can’t sign your rights away. it’s not always allowed if the child is on county assistance then you absolutely wont be allowed to terminate your parental rights as the County wants you on the hook to help pay and reimburse what the county pays. If you’re ex marries then the new husband will be in a better position to adopt and you can sign off, but not if they are still on assistance.

      It’s a tough spot, but I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do.

  10. It is a tough decision but it wasn’t that hard after I did a checklist of pros and cons. That’s awfully messed up that I cant just sign my rights away if I want to and if its what is best for both of us. The county only charges me $50 dollars a month for his medical expenses the other $ 350 I pay goes straight to the ex. I know that there is 9 reasons rights can be terminated and that I cover Abandonment, Unfit Parent, and Absent Birth Father. I don’t see why I would have problems getting this done by a judge, but you know more of the legal system than I do

  11. I am the mother to two children with my ex husband. He has not attempted to contact us/them since September 2009. He moved out of state and was then extradited back to MN on stolen property charges. He attempted suicide once again and was put into an inpatient treatment program. As far as I know he is done with treatment and living with his girlfriend and taking care of her child. I am very close with my ex in-laws but the kids and I haven’t seen nor heard from him since 09. Is it possible to have his parental rights removed involuntarily even though my children wouldn’t be adopted by my significant other at this time? I do have full physical and full legal custody that was granted to me during the divorce precedings since he chose to be in contempt. Or is this something that isn’t wise to persue until I am remarried and decide then if I want my future husband to adopt my children?

    • Leah,

      Thanks for the question, it’s a very common question! The short answer is if had some criminal charges and mental health issues it might be hard to terminate his parental rights based on that. It’s possible, but if he fights it it will be a long (and expensive) fight. Once you get remarried it might be a bit easier to convince him to sign off on his rights and at the same time have your new husband adopt.

      Good luck!

  12. Hi, I was just wondering if there was a way to have your paternal rights terminated when your paying child support. My husband’s ex has not allowed us to have the kids in well over a year. The stress has been so difficult on him that he doesn’t want to fight her. Is this possible? Also, we have a child together and that’s part of the reason the ex doesn’t want them around. Also, if rights are terminated are you still responsible for child support?

    • Thanks for the question, the short answer is generally no, you can’t just ask a Judge to say you’re not dad anymore because the child’s mother and father don’t get along. The only option he might have would be to see if the child’s mother’s new husband wants to adopt, that would end support.

      Best of Luck,

  13. Hi there, I have a situation on my hands.. My daughter will be 5 and ive been married since 2012. Now my daughters real dad all if a sudden randomly lost his memory July 2013, I heard hear say of what happened. Then March 2014 he went crazy, while my daughter was there for the weekend and a police report was even involved. I got ahold of the report, and got a emergency exparte on my daughter. Couple days later we had court already because he wanted custody of her. Judge ruled that out and my exparte took place then they granted a longer one from reading the police report. Again went back to court in May and now he has supervised visits every other Sunday for 5 hours with someone in my family. He has showed up once, he has seen her once since March. We go back in November now to see his progress. Its not court ordered that he sees her and she doesn’t want to see him. We have a guardian ad litem already and my documents of him showing up will weigh heavily on her report.
    Can I do anything about him even being involved? I’ve got to the point where I don’t want child support, I want nothing from him. As horrible as I may sound right now I came to the point of giving up.
    My husband has wanted to take over as daddy for awhile now and I know my daughter and myself would love nothing more.

    • Hmmm, that’s a tough position to be in. The easiest way to get the father out of the child’s life if the biological father agrees to let your husband adopt. It’s what we call a step-parent adoption and if the father agrees, it’s pretty easy. If he doesn’t agree then it might be able to be done, but it’s a contested adoption and is much more difficult and more costly.

      Best of luck.

  14. Hello,

    I have a 2 1/2 year old and I am wondering how to proceed with filing to terminate her father’s rights. A child support order was enforced, but failed to pay and they were unable to locate him, so Scott County eventually closed the case. The judgement amount was literally minimal because of his lack of work history. He also has two other kids–and two other open child support cases. He owes more than $10,000 in back taxes. He has refused to provide financial support and his I am very concerned about her welfare if something were to happen to me, so I want to ensure that my family would have rights to her guardianship. He has done things illegally in the past–although there are no serious criminal convictions on his record. He also has gang-affiliation and has posted pictures on his social media pages blatantly throwing up gang signs. What would be the best course of action?

    Thank you

    • Thanks for the email, sounds like a tough position you’re in. Generally, just not paying child support isn’t going to be enough to terminate he father’s parental rights, it’s pretty rare. Then if the child is getting any state assistance, the county will almost certainly oppose the termination as they want the ability to go after him to get reimbursement.

  15. Hello, correct to my last post regarding something. He owes more than $10,000 in back child support, not taxes.

  16. cassie befort says:

    Hello I hope I wasn’t to late to ask a question but I’m going to try anyway. My son is 19 months, his biological father has never been in his life ever. There is actually a protective order between me and him. He was told at court that in order to get visitation he needed to go to family court in which he never did. He has been in and out of jail for multiple things including drugs car theft not obeying probation. All in all he isn’t a good guy, I got pregnant at a young age and I grew up and took the responsibility but he still hasn’t had to… I’m just wondering if I would have a case to get his rights taken away.

    • Thanks for the question, I took a while to get to it but here we go!

      Short answer is if the county is involved in giving you ANY assistance then they will usually oppose it and the odds you’ll get dad’s right terminated are very low. If you have a no contact order and he’s not in his life…well I would ask why go to all the trouble to try and terminate his rights? Usually my advice is to instead focus on having the child be adopted, if and when you get married.

      I know it’s not the answer you wanted, but I’ve been getting this one a lot it seems the courts are viewing this a bit differently lately and they don’t like to terminate a parent’s rights if there is a chance that the poor parent can become a better parent.

  17. Kayla Gunderson says:

    My friend gave up her rights to her son about 5 years ago because she was abusing drugs and knew she couldn’t be the mother she needed to be for him. Now she is a year sober and wants to be able to see her son, but the father refuses to even let her talk to him. He just recently got married and his new wife adopted their son. She is devastated. Obviously she knew what she was doing when she signed those papers but is it possible for her to ever gain back any custody rights?


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