When Can Parental Rights Be Terminated?
Termination of parental rights is a legal process that permanently ends the rights of natural parents to their child, essentially freeing the child for adoption. This significant and often emotional decision is made to ensure the child’s safety, well-being and best interests.
Filing a termination of parental rights petition
A termination of parental rights petition is typically brought by a foster parent, an authorized foster care agency or a social services agency responsible for the child’s care. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) mandates the filing of a termination petition if a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the last 22 months, unless certain compelling reasons prevent adoption from being in the child’s best interests.
A fact-finding hearing will occur, where the judge must determine whether the respondent parent meets any of the grounds for termination. These grounds include:
- Permanently neglected child: Failure to maintain contact with the child and plan for the child’s future for at least 12 months.
- Legal abandonment: Abandonment of the child for at least six months.
- Severe or repeated abuse: Inflicting severe or repeated abuse upon the child.
- Parent’s mental illness: A parent’s mental illness that prevents them from adequately caring for the child.
If the judge determines that one of these grounds for termination exists, a dispositional hearing is scheduled. At this hearing, the judge considers the best interests of the child before issuing a dispositional order. The child’s own wishes may be considered if the child is over 14 years old.
The judge may order one of the following:
- Dismissal: This occurs when the grounds for termination are not sufficiently proven.
- Suspension of judgment: This temporarily suspends the judgment for up to one year.
- Permanent termination: This frees the child for adoption and commits guardianship and custody to an authorized social services agency.
If you’re interested in learning more about terminating or defending parental rights, call the trusted family law attorneys at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP for a consultation.