Terminating the rights of a biological parent is considered a big deal in the American system of family law. Whether you're petitioning the court to terminate someone's rights, asking on your behalf, or trying to prevent it, there are three things you need to know.
Who Can Petition for Termination?
One of the two biological parents can file for the other one's rights to be terminated. Similarly, guardians and close family members also have standing.
If a child protective services agency has been involved with trying to address family issues, the agency will also have grounds to petition for termination. Generally, though, CPS doesn't pursue these sorts of petitions unless they've exhausted other possible options. Also, they usually don't ask a court to terminate rights unless they have been involved for more than a year.
Best Interests of the Child
As with all family court proceedings involving kids, the court will focus on what's in the best interests of the child. This means the judge will be reluctant to terminate parental rights unless there is clear and convincing evidence the child will be harmed if the current household arrangement persists. Notably, a judge may not terminate rights even if the parent is asking for their rights to be terminated.
Arguments for Terminating Rights
Clear and convincing evidence must emerge that the parent is causing harm in one of the following ways. Abandonment, including removal of financial support for several months, is an argument. Neglect, physical or mental abuse, or sexual assault also are valid reasons. Parental unfitness is an argument, usually based on a failure to provide a normal level of guidance and support to the child.
Minimal effort is one of the trickier arguments a family law attorney might employ. For example, a couple might have joint custody but one parent is always returning the kid long before their time with the child is up.
If the court has previously tried to address problems with the family, there is an argument for difficulties in parental adjustment. For example, a parent might have been ordered to take counseling and classes to become better adjusted in dealing with day-to-day family life. If the parent doesn't correct the previously known problems within a fair amount of time or overtly resists change, then the court may terminate their rights.
Note that courts refuse to fast-track termination. Even if one parent has been absent for years, the judge will let the process play out over weeks or months to ensure the parent has a chance to respond.
If you need help understanding the details of parental rights, talk to a family law attorney near you.