I get a lot of emails from a parent who wants to terminate the rights of the other parent of their child. It’s almost always a mother wanting to terminate the parental rights of the father. Sometimes it’s a father of a child wanting to terminate his own rights because he’s tired of paying child support and dealing with the child’s mother.
Most often, I have to tell people that they simply cannot do what they want. It is the policy of the Tennessee Courts that children are better off with two parents, even if those parents don’t like each other, or even if a parent doesn’t visit the child often or pay support like they should. If we were able to simply cut a parent out of a child’s life without better cause, the Juvenile Courts would never be able to close because there would be a line out the door, down the block, and around the corner. It’s sad, but it’s true.
Generally, terminations are successful in the following types of cases:
- A voluntary adoption: Both parents can voluntarily surrender their rights to a child and allow the child to be adopted by a third party.
- Stepparent adoption: A stepparent can adopt a child of his/her spouse. This will require the termination of the other parent’s rights, either by consent or by proving sufficient grounds exist to end the other parent’s rights to the child.
- Removal by the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”): DCS frequently seeks termination of parental rights due to severe abuse or neglect, or for other reasons. DCS doesn’t necessarily have to be involved, it is just uncommon for most people to bear the expense of such a case on their own.
- The father isn’t really the father: This one is particularly sad. I’ve been involved in a few cases where a woman allowed a man to believe one or more of the children were his, when in fact the children were actually fathered by somebody else. Some men will continue to raise the child, some can’t get passed the deception.
You’re Involved in an Adoption Case? Great!
Most of the time, the only way to terminate a parent’s rights to a child is when somebody else is prepared to adopt the child. In order to even consider a termination of parental rights, at least one of the following grounds must be present (these are highly summarized in order to be brief):
- The other parent has willfully failed to visit the child or to pay support for the child for at least 4 months
- The parent has failed to follow a permanency plan (usually put in place by DCS)
- The child was removed from the home due to a court order and the conditions that caused the removal still exist, the conditions are not likely to improve soon, and continuing the parent-child relationship is making it difficult for the child to adapt to a safe home.
- The parent has committed severe child abuse, which is an act that is likely to cause severe bodily harm or death of the child.
- The parent has been sentenced to more than two years in jail for conduct against the child, or any of the child’s siblings.
- The parent has been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for a criminal offense, and the child is less than 8 years old when the sentence was imposed.
- The parent has caused the intentional and wrongful death of the other parent.
- The parent is incompetent and cannot adequately take care of the child.
- The parent has never been declared to be the legal parent of the child and he has either: failed to pay a reasonable amount of the costs associated with pregnancy or birth, or failed to pay support for the child, or failed to attempt to visit the child, or that allowing the child to visit the parent would be harmful to the child.
- The parent was convicted of rape, and the rape resulted in the birth of the child.
- The parent has been found guilty of severe child sexual abuse (which includes several statutes including rape, aggravated sexual battery, and incest)
In addition to finding that sufficient grounds exist, the court must also find that it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the parent’s rights. I can promise you that unless somebody is asking to adopt the child, it is highly unlikely that a court will decide that it is in the best interests of a child to cut off a parent’s rights simply because they haven’t visited or paid support like they should. The court is going to suggest that you pursue enforcement of the child support. It’s going to take more severe circumstances to leave a child with only one parent.
If you are interested in pursuing an adoption, or if you believe your situation is so severe that a termination would be appropriate, contact me to find out how I may be able to help you.