Termination of Parental Rights

Generally, parental rights termination is an extraordinary remedy and will occur only when the parent or parents “have demonstrated that they will not provide the degree of care that promotes the healthy and orderly physical and emotional well-being of the child.”

The qualified family law attorneys at Weaver, Bennett & Bland are strong advocates for the well-being of children. Contact them at (704) 844-1400 to discuss your circumstances and legal options throughout the Matthews, Indian Trail, Waxhaw, and Monroe regions regarding termination of parental rights or the preservation of your rights.

Who can petition for termination of parental rights?

The following individuals may petition for termination of parental rights:

  1. Either parent seeking termination of the rights of the other parent (parents may not seek termination of their own rights);
  2. Any judicially appointed guardian of the child;
  3. The Department of Social Services or any licensed child placement agency that has custody through a court order, or to which the child has been given for adoption;
  4. Any person with whom the child has resided for a continuous period of two years before filing the petition;
  5. Any guardian ad litem appointed to represent the child who has served in that capacity for one year; and
  6. Any person who has filed a petition for adoption.

In what situations can I seek termination of parental rights?

There are several grounds for which the above individuals may seek to terminate the parental rights of a parent:

  1. Abuse: an abused juvenile is any juvenile under the age of 18, whose parents or other person responsible for care inflicts, or allows to be inflicted, serious physical injury; creates, or allows to be created, risk of serious physical injury; commits, permits, or encourages the commission of any sexual act or photographic depiction thereof; creates, or allows to be created, serious emotional damage to the juvenile and refuses to permit, provide for or participate in treatment; or encourages, directs, or approves of delinquent acts involving moral turpitude committed by the juvenile.
  2. Neglect: a neglected juvenile is one who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline, or has been abandoned, or is not provided necessary medical care or other remedial care. The evidence of neglect must relate to neglect at the time of the termination, not to past conditions that no longer exist, unless there is evidence that the conditions will recur. The standard for finding abandonment requires conduct evidencing a settled purpose and willful intent to forgo parental duties and responsibilities. In other words, to amount to neglect, failure to pay child support must be willful, without justification, and purposeful.
  3. Parent Leaves Child in Foster Care: parental rights may be terminated if a parent has willfully left the child in foster care for more than 12 months without being able to show progress toward correcting the conditions that led to foster care placement. However, there can be no termination solely because the parent is unable to care for the child because of poverty.
  4. Failure to Contribute to Costs of Caring for Child: if a child has been in custody of the Department of Social Services, a licensed child placement agency, or a childcare institution, and the parent, for six months prior to filing of the petition, has failed to pay a reasonable portion of cost of care, parental rights can be terminated. This failure to pay must be “willful”- i.e., the parent did not pay although physically and financially able to do so.
  5. Failure to Comply with Custody Decree or Agreement: parental rights may be terminated if one parent has been awarded custody by decree or agreement of the parents, and the other has, for one year or more, willfully failed without justification to pay for the care, support, and education of the child, as required by the decree or custody agreement.
  6. Father of Non-marital Child Fails to Take Steps to Change Child’s Status: the parental rights of the father of a non-marital child may be terminated if the father has not, prior to the filing of the petition to terminate his rights:
    • Established paternity judicially or by affidavit;
    • Legitimate the child or marry the child’s mother; or
    • Provided substantial financial support or consistent care with respect to the child and mother.
  7. Parent is Mentally Incapable of Providing Care or Supervision: if a parent is incapable, as a result of mental retardation or other degenerative mental condition, of providing for care and supervision of the child, her parental rights may be terminated.
  8. Abandonment: parental rights may be terminated if the parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the petition. A child may be willfully abandoned by the natural father if the mother of the child has been willfully abandoned by, and was living separate and apart from, the father at the time of the child’s birth. In any event, the child must be over the age of three months at the time of the filing of the petition.

What are my rights?

  • Indigents (a person who cannot provide the necessities of life for himself/herself or without sufficient income to afford an attorney) have a right to appointed counsel at a parental rights termination hearing. However, this right may be waived.
  • A parent also has a statutory right to appointed counsel in a civil petition to determine child abuse, neglect, or dependency. This statutory right is violated by talking to parents about surrendering their parental rights without the presence of their counsel.

A guardian ad litem (an adult whom the court appoints during a legal action to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child” ) must be appointed for the parent whose rights are sought to be terminated if that parent is under 18 or is mentally incompetent.