A Parental Rights Termination Case is a legal action in which the court permanently revokes a parent’s parental rights to their child. It is a very serious action that can have many emotional consequences for the parents and children involved. Often it is initiated by Child Protective Services or by the police and involves extreme abuse or neglect.
A termination can occur voluntarily or involuntarily. When a parent voluntarily gives up their rights, they typically do so with the help of a family law attorney to make sure that their rights are not being taken away without sufficient cause. A parent can also give up their rights involuntarily by being reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) by a professional like a doctor or a psychologist or by being charged with a felony assault that has been committed against the child. Once CPS determines that a child is in danger, they can remove the child from the parent’s home and temporarily assume legal custody. The child may then go to a foster home or into adoption.
Once a child is removed from a parent’s home, a family court Judge must decide whether to terminate their rights. A Judge must find that it is in the best interests of the child to do so and must abide by certain standards. These include that the Judge must hear evidence that a child has been harmed and that it is in danger of being harmed again, and that the removal was not the result of a mistake or was not done for improper reasons. In addition, a parent who loses their parental rights can no longer legally visit the child or make decisions regarding the child’s health care, education or religion. They are also no longer obligated to pay child support payments.
Anyone can file a petition in Family Court to ask the Judge to terminate a parent’s rights. This can be done by a relative, doctor or private agency. A person who has a “legitimate interest in the welfare of a child” can petition to terminate parental rights. A Judge will have a special trial called a “fact-finding hearing” to determine whether or not there are grounds to terminate a parent’s rights. There are five specific legal grounds to terminate a parent’s rights: abandonment, permanent neglect, mental illness, mental retardation and severe and repeated abuse. A parent who is facing the possibility of having their parental rights terminated can get a free lawyer from the city to represent them. These lawyers must be certified by the state and have experience in these kinds of cases. They must be able to prove the facts of the case at a special trial with a high standard of proof called clear and convincing evidence which is higher than the standard of preponderance of the evidence but lower than a criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Judge finds that all of the requirements for terminating a parent’s rights are met, they will issue an order of termination.