Although it is extremely rare, there are times when a family court judge may decide to terminate an adult’s legal rights as a parent. Such action is almost always linked to foster custody or an adoption proceeding.  

In some instances, such action is involuntary, and it may occur over the objection of the parent whose rights are being terminated. In other cases, the parent may request that the court terminate their parental rights. In either case, the court uses very strict standards to terminate a parent’s legal rights to their child.  

When it comes to involuntary termination of a parent’s legal rights, the court will consider any way in which the parent has made an effort to be a part of the child’s life. For example, even a parent who is incarcerated may be able to send letters to their child or provide minimal financial support in some form.  

 Some of the circumstances under Hawaii state law in which the court will involuntarily terminate a parent’s legal rights to their child include: 

  • If the parent surrendered care of the child to another person for at least two years  
  • If the parent failed to communicate with the child for at least one year  
  • When the parent fails to provide care and support to the child for at least one year 
  • When the child was removed from the parent’s physical custody due to a legal action 
  • If the parent is found by the court to be mentally ill or intellectually disabled and unable to givconsent to an adoption or from providing the care necessary for the well-being of the child
  • If it is determined that the father is not the natural or adoptive father  

If a parent wishes to relinquish their parental rights to their child, the family court judge will ask for the specific reasons for the request. The most common circumstances in which the court might grant a parents’ request to relinquish their parental are when the child is adopted by another, such as a stepparent or new adoptive parents.  

Whether voluntary or involuntary, the termination of parental rights is not something that the Family Court takes lightly. Seth Harris, senior associate with PMK’s family law division is available to assist with any legal cases related to the termination of parental rights or any other family law needs. For more information, go to