Termination of Parental Rights
OVERVIEW OF TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

Terminating a parent’s rights means that the person’s rights as a parent are taken away. The person is not the child’s legal parent anymore. This means:

• The parent-child relationship no longer exists.

• The parent no longer gets to raise the child.

• The parent usually has no right to visit or talk with the child.

• The parent no longer has to pay child support.

• The parent is removed from the child’s birth certificate.

• The child can be adopted without the parent’s permission.

A court order terminating parental rights requires a finding that such termination would serve the best interest of the child, and that other grounds exist, including:

• Abandonment of the child; this is behavior that shows the parent intends to give up all rights to the child. Usually, this means that a parent has not contacted the child and has not provided any financial support to the child for at least 6 months without a good reason.

• Neglect and/or Unfit of the parent: In determining neglect by or unfitness of a parent, the court shall consider, without limitation, the following conditions:

• Emotional illness, mental illness, or mental deficiency of the parent that renders the parent consistently unable to care for the immediate and continuing physical or psychological needs of the child for extended periods of time.

• Conduct toward a child of a physically, emotionally, or sexually cruel or abusive nature.

• Excessive use of intoxicating liquors, controlled substances, or dangerous drugs that renders the parent consistently unable to care for the child.

• Repeated or continuous failure by the parent, although physically and financially able, to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, or other care and control necessary for the child’s physical, mental and emotional health and development.

• Conviction of the parent of a felony of such a nature as to indicate the unfitness of the parent to provide adequate care and control to the extent necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development.

• The fatality or near-fatality of the child, a sibling of the child, or another child in the care of the parent, for which the parent has no reasonable explanation and for which there is evidence that such physical injury or death would not have occurred absent the parent’s abuse or neglect of the child.

• The inability of appropriate public or private agencies to reunite the family despite reasonable efforts on the part of the agencies.

• “Failure of Parental Adjustment”; If CPS removed a child from the home, the parent only has so much time to correct the reasons that caused the child to be removed. If the parents do not correct those problems within a “reasonable time,” the state can petition to terminate their rights.

• Risk of serious physical, mental or emotional injury to the child if he were returned to, or remains in, the home of his parent or parents;

• “Only token efforts by the parent or parents” (to do the things that parents do for children); or abandonment.

• Sexual Assault. If the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault and the parent was convicted for sexual assault, their rights can be terminated.

A parent, guardian, or other family member can file a petition asking to terminate a parent’s rights. If the child or the petitioner receive public assistance (such as TANF or SNAP), it is unlikely that a judge will terminate the parent’s rights. In that event, the Child Support office must be notified of a termination case and may oppose the termination if public assistance is being provided.

If CPS has been involved with a family, the Department of Family Services (“DFS”) can file a petition asking a judge to terminate a parent’s rights. This usually happens after DFS has been involved with the family for a year or more to try and fix the problems. If the parent does not make progress, or if the problems are very serious, DFS can ask the District Attorney to file a termination of parental rights case.

Can I Give Up My Rights?

Usually not. Judges want children to have two parents to provide emotional and financial support. You cannot give up your parental rights to avoid dealing with a child’s behavioral problems, and you cannot give up your parental rights to avoid paying child support.

You may voluntarily give up your parental rights if someone else wants to adopt the child, or if someone else has filed a petition to terminate your rights. You will typically need to go to a court hearing to let the judge know your wishes in person.

No matter what, the judge also has to decide that it would be in the children’s best interest to terminate the parent’s rights. The person asking to terminate the parent’s rights has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that one of the grounds above exists, and that termination would be in the child’s best interest. This is a very high standard.

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