A common question we receive is whether a parent can voluntarily relinquish their parental rights in an effort to avoid having to provide financial support for a child. Whether the question is posed by a mother whose child has a father who wants little to nothing to do with the child—so the mother would just prefer the father relinquish his rights—or whether it comes from a father who for whatever reasons does not have the financial resources or other means to care and provide for a child.
Before answering this question, it is important that any parent of a child understand what the law in Kansas says with respect to providing financial support for a child. In Kansas, as in many other states, parents have what is known as a common law duty to support their children. As one Kansas opinion eloquently put it, “the duty of parents to provide for the maintenance (or support) of their children is a principle of natural law; an obligation laid on them not only by nature herself, but by their own proper act, in bringing them into the world.”
It is important that parents understand this common law duty. However, parents in KS also now have a statutory duty to support their children. That is, the Kansas State Legislature has also passed laws that place an onus and duty on parents to provide for their children financially. And indeed, it is arguably because of both this common law duty, and statutory duty, that Courts in Kansas have made it clear that a parent cannot simply elect to relinquish their rights by signing them away to avoid providing financial support for a child. As again noted by a Kansas court, “[t]his common–law duty of support continues until the child reaches the age of majority, (which in KS is 18), or until the death of the child.” This again means that a parent cannot simply voluntarily elect to relinquish their rights over a child simply for the purposes of avoiding child support.
So then the question becomes, is there ever a situation where a parent’s duty to support a child can be terminated? The answer in Kansas is yes. However, the circumstances under which this can happen are not ones where a parent can simply decided to relinquish rights to avoid support.
The reason there are situations where a parent’s duty to support a child can be terminated is because the duty to support a child has to terminate upon parental rights being severed. Simply put, the only scenario where a parents duty to support a child can terminate is a situation where that parents rights are also being completely terminated.
This means there would have to be a formal Court proceeding where a Court of appropriate jurisdiction formally terminate a parent’s rights over a child—meaning that parent would no longer have the ability to make any decisions regarding the child, or have any rights to see a child. In such a scenario, that parent’s duty to support a child would also be terminated.
In Kansas, courts have recognized only three statutory methods by which parental rights are, or can be, terminated:
- adoption, under K.S.A. 59–2111 et seq.;
- termination of parental rights under K.S.A. 38–1581 et seq. (this would be a situation where the State would institute a proceeding because it believes a parent or set of parents is not capable of adequately caring for a child, and thus the state is seeking to terminate parental rights); and
- relinquishment of parental rights under K.S.A. 59–2124. – (this would be a situation where a parent or parents would formally petition a Court, asking that they be permitted to relinquish rights and custody of a child to an state approved agency).
Simply put, the only three methods by which parental rights can be terminated are: (1) adoption; (2) the state filing to seek to terminate rights; or (3) a parent petition the Court to ask a state agency assume custody of child. As you will hopefully quickly see here, there is truly only one scenario then where a parent could even theoretically work with another parent to terminate one parents parental rights, and that’s adoption. Meaning if one parent were to marry, or simply find another third-party willing to formally and legally assume responsibility of a child through a formal adoption proceeding, the other parent—assuming the Court were to approve the adoption—could have their parental rights terminated, and in doing so also have their duty to support their child.