Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
A contested hearing on a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights is litigation that may take part of a day or up to several weeks. It is a stressful and costly endeavor for adoptive families which often includes depositions, interrogatories, pre-trial Motions, expert witnesses, and testimony of the parties. Appeals are common in these cases and should be anticipated as a likely “next step”. The appeals process is also expensive and may last years.
In a contested hearing on a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights, two things must be proven for the Court to grant the Petition:
The grounds for terminating parental rights are the sworn allegations that justify the request under the law. There are specific legal definitions for each ground that your attorney will review with you. Some of the common grounds in Tennessee are:
- Abandonment of the child, particularly the 4 consecutive months prior to the filing of a petition, if the parent fails to visit or financially support the child; or
- Substantial noncompliance with the responsibilities set out in the permanency plan; or
- After a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, if the parent fails to change the circumstances that led to the removal, the child is prevented from safely reunifying with their family. In this case, the parental rights may be terminated if the child would be denied an opportunity to be integrated into a safe, stable, and permanent home; or
- The parent has committed severe child abuse; or
- Certain periods of incarceration depending on the type of charge, the period of incarceration, and the age of the child when the parent is sentenced; or
- The parent is mentally incompetent to provide for the care and supervision of the child.
Factors the Court will consider in determining whether termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child include:
- Whether the parent has made changes that make it safe for the child to return home;
- Whether the parent has made lasting changes after reasonable efforts by social services agencies;
- Whether the parent has maintained regular visitation with the child;
- Whether a meaningful relationship exists between the parent and child;
- The effect a change of caretaker is likely to have on the child’s emotional, psychological, and medical condition;
- Whether the parent has abused or neglected the child;
- Whether the parent’s home is safe, stable, and free of illegal activity;
- Whether the parent’s mental or emotional status would be detrimental to the child;
- Whether the parents have paid child support
Once the parental rights are terminated, the child may be placed in the guardianship of a licensed child-placing agency or the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. If the child is living in a pre-adoptive foster home or agency placement, the family may then file a Petition for Adoption.