All too often we hear of stories regarding children who are injured (or worse) while in the care of their parents and ask “how can the parents still have any rights?” Having your rights as a parent extinguished is very difficult to do, after all, what is more sacred to us than our children?

There are two ways to terminate parental rights:

1. Voluntary termination also known as surrender. A parent can voluntarily terminate their rights to allow a child to be adopted.

2. Involuntary Termination – This is when an authorized government agency files a petition in Family Court under certain grounds to terminate rights.

Before a parent’s parental rights can be terminated, there first must be a finding that the parent has abused or neglect the child. After a finding of abuse of neglect, there will be a disposition, similar to a sentencing part of a trial, where the court will determine what is in the best interest of the child.

Involuntarily terminating parental rights is not something that is done lightly. The Legislative intent states:

(i) it is desirable for children to grow up with a normal family life in a permanent home and that such circumstance offers the best opportunity for children to develop and thrive;
(ii) it is generally desirable for the child to remain with or be returned to the birth parent because the child’s need for a normal family life will usually best be met in the home of its birth parent, and that parents are entitled to bring up their own children unless the best interests of the child would be thereby endangered;
(iii) the state’s first obligation is to help the family with services to prevent its break-up or to reunite it if the child has already left home; and
(iv) when it is clear that the birth parent cannot or will not provide a normal family home for the child and when continued foster care is not an appropriate plan for the child, then a permanent alternative home should be sought for the child.

There are five grounds that, once a negative finding has been made against a parent, a petition terminating parental rights can be brought:

(1) Abandonment,
(2) Permanent Neglect,
(3) Mental Illness,
(4) Intellectual Disability, and
(5) Severe and Repeated Abuse.

Abandonment is when a parent shows that they intend to waive their parental rights and obligations by their failure to visit or communicate with the child. Permanent neglect is when the child is in the care of an authorized agency, and the parent has failed to maintain contact or visit the child within the last year or 15 / 22 months since the child was placed with the agency. For both abandonment and permanent neglect, the parent is physically and financially able to visit and communicate with the child, but they choose not to. Even if someone is incarcerated, it is presumed that a parent can maintain contact with their child.

Once a parent’s rights are terminated, they are no longer legally required to support the child financially and lose any rights to visitation or custody.

You can appeal an order of termination, which requests that an appellate court examine the decision. The parent needs to file a notice of appeal within 30 days from the date the order was served.

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