Does Termination of Parental Rights Affect Child Support Obligations?
Usually when two parents are no longer married or living together, child support payments are made by the non-custodial parent, to provide continued financial support for the child. This can be done even when the non-custodial parent does not have any contact with the child. What happens, though, when the parent who is paying child support no longer has any parental rights?
Involuntary termination of parental rights
The Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling in a 2009 case that addressed whether termination of parental rights has an effect on the obligation to pay child support. In that particular case, after the couple had divorced, the father was convicted of raping the mother’s child from a previous marriage. The mother then initiated proceedings seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights to the two children of their marriage. The father’s parental rights ended in October 2005. In January of 2007, the mother filed a petition seeking payment of unpaid child support, based on the order entered when the couple divorced in 2003. The juvenile court handling the case found that the father was no longer required to pay child support because his parental rights had been terminated. The mother appealed.
An issue of first impression
The Court of Civil Appeals found this matter to be an issue of first impression. Looking at the Alabama Child Protection Act, the appellate court determined that, since the act does not address the issue of paying child support after parental rights have been terminated, then the juvenile court’s ruling was correct. However, the Supreme Court disagreed.
In fact, the Supreme Court held the opposite. The Alabama Child Protection Act does not suggest that the termination of parental rights automatically terminates the obligation to pay child support. A judgment terminating parental rights ends that parent’s right to custody of the child, among other things. However, a parent still has an obligation to provide support for the child. The Court also reasoned that custodial parents should not be forced to choose between seeking to terminate the parental rights of an abusive parent in order to protect a child and receiving financial support, to which the child has a legal right.
If you have questions regarding child visitation, or any other divorce issues, contact attorney Brad J. Latta online, or by calling (205) 998-5570.