The termination of parental rights is a legal process by which a biological parent’s rights to his or her child are terminated. The termination effectively ends the relationship between the parent and the child. The parent can lose the right to contact or communicate with his or her child and can no longer make decisions affecting the child. Parental rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. Both types of termination are regulated by statute.
There are numerous grounds on which a court may terminate a parent-child relationship. The court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has engaged in certain types of conduct, including abandoning the child, endangering the child and not supporting the child. In addition, the court has to find that termination is in the best interest of the child.
Prior to involuntary termination, the Department of Family and Protective Services might become involved with a family when there has been a report of abuse or neglect concerning the child. If the social worker determines that the child will be in an unsafe situation if he or she remains with the parent, the child may be removed from the parent’s custody. If the child stays in state custody for a certain amount of time following removal, a termination proceeding may be instituted in the family court.
A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, companionship, custody and management of his or her child. For this reason, the parent’s due process rights must not be violated during the termination procedure. One of the safeguards in place for the parent is the right to have an attorney appointed if the parent is indigent. After the termination of the rights of both parents is complete, the child can be legally adopted.
When the parents of a child have divorced or were not married in the first place and one of the parents marries a third person who wishes to adopt the spouse’s child, a stepparent adoption is available if the rights of the other parent are terminated. In this situation, there are times when a parent will voluntarily consent to termination of his or her rights in order that the stepparent may adopt his or her spouse’s child. In other scenarios, a parent may protest the termination of his or her rights in order to facilitate an adoption. A court must make the same findings in this situation as in an involuntary termination: clear and convincing evidence that the parent has engaged in specified conduct and that the termination is in the best interest of the child.
A parent may voluntarily relinquish his or her rights by signing an affidavit to that effect. No grounds are required for termination upon the parent’s signing of the affidavit. A statute sets forth the information that must be contained in the affidavit, as well as the requirements for when the affidavit must be signed and the number of witnesses who must be present. It is possible to revoke a relinquishment.
Safeguarding Your Rights
If you are in the situation in which there is a possibility that your parental rights may be terminated or you may seek the termination of a former spouse’s parental rights, speaking to a family law attorney is recommended. An attorney can let you know what your rights are and how to protect them.