Termination of Rights – When Is It Appropriate?

In certain cases, a parent may have committed actions that warrant a court to consider terminating that parent’s rights to their child.  The actions will need to be serious, but if they are, either a judge or jury can possibly terminate that parent’s rights after the presentation of the evidence on the matter.

A suit for termination of rights can be filed by the other parent of the child, a person who has custody of the child, or by someone such as the Department of Family and Protective Services when they discover that the conduct calling for termination has been committed.  The party requesting termination must plead specific grounds for termination of the other parent’s rights to be entitled to this form of relief.

Some of the grounds for termination include the following:  1) abandonment and lack of support, 2) child endangerment including abuse or neglect, 3) engaging in criminal conduct such as pregnancy caused by a criminal act or committing of a serious crime, or 4) a parent is otherwise unfit including not complying with a CPS service plan or the parent cannot care for the child because of being incapacitated.  The grounds for termination must be established by clear and convincing evidence, which is a slightly higher burden than the usual preponderance of evidence required in civil cases.

Another way a termination may occur is if the parent whose rights are to be terminated consents to the termination.  This does happen often in termination cases, and the parent terminating their rights can sign an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment that essentially forgoes any rights they may have to the child.  The affidavit is usually revocable for a small period of time and then becomes irrevocable after the expiration of this time period. Just because a parent voluntarily agrees to give up rights to their child does not mean a court will grant the relief.  The court still has to make a determination that the termination is in the best interests of the child.

Often times in a termination suit, a petition for adoption is included in the termination suit for the child.  The reasoning behind this is so that the child is not essentially “orphaned” by the termination of one of their parent’s rights.  The adoption can be by a variety of different parties, including the spouse of the other parent, a relative of the child, or a party with who the child has been living for an extended period of time.  The adoption will also help with the court’s likelihood of granting the termination as they will know that another person is stepping into the role of either mother or father to the child.

Whether a case is appropriate for termination will need to be evaluated by an attorney familiar with such suits.  While it may ultimately be appropriate to terminate a parent’s rights, a party will not want to waste time and money on seeking this form of relief if it will not be granted by a court.  This same approach should be used when a parent is seeking to terminate their own rights, as they must keep in mind that the ultimate decision to do so lies with the court.

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