When a parent for whatever reason can no longer care for a child, a termination of parental rights may be necessary. Termination of parental rights can occur for a number of reasons, and it can either be voluntary or involuntary. In either case, the courts must review and make a determination on the outcome. In either case, once parental rights are terminated, they are permanently terminated, and the parent will no longer have any rights to the child. Termination, whether voluntary or involuntary can be a lengthy and difficult process to undergo alone.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Voluntary terminating one's parental rights is almost always used specifically in the case of a birth parent surrendering their child for adoption. This can be a complex process, and often involves working with an adoption agency, and also the future adoptive parents. The court will seldom accept a voluntary termination of parental rights if an adoption is not already in the works, unless there is some sort of extreme circumstance. This is because the child has a right to support from the parent, instead of being immediately placed into the care of the state. The parent surrendering their rights must provide their official consent. The court will take measures to ensure that the consent is voluntary and deliberate, and that the parent is not under any duress. It is very important to be certain that the surrendering parent does this of their own accord. Voluntary termination of parenthood also typically removes the terminating parent's responsibility to support the child, as their adoptive parents will likely do so.
Because voluntary termination almost always involves work with an adoption agency, the terminating parent will need to go through the adoptions process before the termination can be approved. This is normally done under the guidelines of the adoption agency that the parent is working with, and the overall process can take several months before it is complete. On top of that, the complex nature of legal paperwork during the process may warrant the assistance and counsel of a Family Law attorney.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Involuntary termination of parental rights occurs when one parent or the Commonwealth files a petition to immediately terminate a parent's rights to a child. This termination is just as permanent as a voluntary termination, however the grounds upon which to petition the court for an involuntary termination of parenthood are strict, and it can be difficult to get through the process. The grounds for involuntary termination are:
- The parent shows a "sense of purpose" in relinquishing their parental rights, or has refused or failed to perform their duties for at least six months
- Evidence of repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect, or refusal that leaves the child without essential and proper care and the parent will not or cannot remedy the situation
- The parent is the presumptive, but not natural father of the child
- The child is found but the identities or whereabouts of the parents of the child are unknown, and cannot be found through "diligent" searches, and the parents do not claim the child within 3 months after finding the child
- The child has been living out of the home for at least 6 months, and the conditions that caused the child to live out of the home are not likely to be remedied, AND termination of parental rights would best serve the child
- The child is a newborn and the parent knows of or has reason to know of the child, but does not reside with child, has not married the other parents, and has not made effort to maintain contact with the child for at least 4 months
- The parent is the father of the child through rape or incest
- The child has been removed from the parent's care for over 12 months, and the conditions that caused the removal still persist
- The parent has been convicted of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, or an attempt of either of those offenses
If a parent's case to terminate the other's parenthood is upon these grounds, the court may consider involuntary termination. With the help of an attorney, working through the documents necessary to do so will be a much smoother process.
A majority of the time, legal counsel will greatly reduce the stress and lengthiness of the termination process. If you or a loved one is currently engaged in matters of Family Law, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.