How to Respond to a Termination of Parental Rights Case
Being served with parental rights termination papers can be scary and stressful. Your emotions might make it hard to figure out what to do. It can be tempting to do absolutely nothing because you are too overwhelmed to deal with it. Or you might think if you do nothing, the other parent will not be able to move forward with the case.
Ignoring the papers will not make the case go away. In fact, if you do not respond to the papers and/or attend the court hearing, the other parent may be able to terminate your rights without your say. This page will explain the steps you need to take to respond to a petition to terminate your rights.
Make sure you understand the basic legal concepts. Visit the Termination of Parental Rights Overview page for more information.
Step 1. Read the Papers
Read the papers the other parent filed. Don’t worry, the judge has not ordered anything yet – these papers just tell you what the other parent is asking for and when the court date is set. You should have received the following:
- Petition to Terminate Rights. Read through this document. You may agree with some, all, or none of the petition. Write down next to each paragraph in the petition whether you agree or disagree with what that paragraph says.
- Notice of Hearing. This tells you when the court date is set for your case. Plan to go to the hearing. The judge will expect to see you at the hearing so you can explain whether you agree or disagree with terminating your rights.
If you are unsure what to do, it is always best to talk to a lawyer. Visit Find Legal Help for information on lawyers and free / low-cost legal help.
Step 2. Fill Out an Answer
The petition to terminate rights will have numbered paragraphs with each item the other party is requesting listed separately. Your "Answer" tells the judge and the other party what numbered parts of the petition you agree with and disagree with. For instance, you might agree with paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, but disagree with paragraphs 4, 5, 6. Write this in your answer. You do not have to explain why. This lets the judge and the other party know what issues will need to be dealt with.
You usually only have 21 days to file an Answer. Be sure to file your answer before this deadline. If you miss the deadline, see if you can file the paperwork late, and be sure to attend the court date listed on the Notice of Hearing. You can still tell the judge your side of the story at that hearing, even if you did not get the Answer filed.
Step 3. File the Answer
After you fill out the papers above, you will need to file them with the same district court where the petition was filed. Visit Find My Court if you are not sure where to find the district court.
The court will charge you a filing fee to file your papers. The fee is different in every county. Find out from the court what the filing fee will be.
If you cannot afford the filing fee, please see Filing Fees and Waivers to find out how to ask the court to waive the fee.
Step 4. Serve the Answer
After you complete the steps on this page, a copy of your answer must be sent to the person who filed the case against you. The Court does not serve the papers for you. It is up to YOU to make sure the other person gets served after you file these papers.
If the other person does not have an attorney, send a copy of the answer directly to that person. If the Petitioner does have an attorney, send a copy of the answer to the attorney (you can find the attorney’s name and address on the upper left corner of your spouse’s documents). You can send it by regular mail. You do not need to send it by certified mail.
After mailing, fill out a Certificate of Mailing. This form tells the court when, where, and how you served the documents. File the Certificate of Mailing with the court.
Step 5. Go to the Hearing
There should be a court date listed on the "Notice of Hearing" that you were served with. Plan to attend that hearing. You can learn about what will happen at the hearing on the Termination of Parental Rights Hearing page.