Utah Code Title 78A-6-501: Judiciary and Judicial Administration.
This part is known as the “Termination of Parental Rights Act.”
Each state have laws stating specific grounds for the termination of parental rights, a process that ends the parent-child relationship from a legal standpoint. A termination of parental rights petition is brought to permanently end the legal rights of the natural parents of a child, thereby “freeing” the child for adoption. While states differ slightly on the exact grounds for termination, most statutes hinge on the consideration of a child’s best interests. For example, parents who are unable to provide a safe home, or who have been convicted of serious acts of child abuse, may have their parental rights terminated. Courts make a variety of decisions that affect children, including placement and custody determinations, safety and permanency planning, and proceedings for termination of parental rights. Whenever a court makes such a determination, it must weigh whether its decision will be in the “best interests” of the child. Most states consider a child’s best interests in termination proceedings. In some states, statutes use general language mandating that the child’s health and safety be paramount in all proceedings, while other states’ legislation lists specific factors that must be considered, such as the child’s age; the physical, mental, emotional and moral well-being; cultural and attachment issues; and the child’s reasonable preferences.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Typically, parents voluntarily terminate their rights when they wish to give the child up for adoption. Termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary. When it comes to voluntary termination of parental rights, the process is quite difficult because children are generally seen to have a right to a parental relationship and, particularly, a right to receive financial support and care from both parents. Two common situations that often lead to requests to terminate parental rights include a parent who wishes to terminate his/her child support or financial obligation for the child; or a parent who desires to have the other parent completely out of their life.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
When a court orders the termination of parental rights, the legal relationship between a parent and child ceases to exist. It is very rare and only occurs in especially serious cases, such as those involving child abuse or severe child neglect. And even though a parent may petition the court to voluntarily give up his or her parental rights, the main consideration is always the child’s best interests. Laws allowing reinstatement were drafted generally in response to older children who were aging out of foster care and wanted to re-establish family ties. Usually, reinstatement is available only on the condition that the child has not been permanently placed with a foster home within a given period of time.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You
Consider meeting with a family law attorney in your area if you have additional questions about reinstatement of parental rights or would like to initiate the process. Remember, a person whose parental rights have been terminated also loses custody or visitation rights with the child. If the voluntary termination occurred through a state child welfare agency, some states do provide for limited post-termination access to the child by the former parent. The family code of each state governs the rules and procedures for termination and post-termination access, if any. To understand how the laws of your state apply to your situation, contact a qualified family law attorney in your area.
The Process of Termination
The termination of parental rights is usually a long and emotional process. If a parent is accused of abuse or neglect, in most states, the first step is for local child protective services to investigate the situation. In severe cases, the District Attorney may decide to bring charges. If there is evidence of abuse or neglect, the local division of youth and family services (or the equivalent) will open a case. If at all possible, the ultimate goal will be reunification with the biological family. However, in some cases, the abuse is so cruel or severe that this is unlikely. Depending on the circumstances, the child may be removed from the home during this process. During this time period, the local family services agency will usually try to work with the parents to help them be able to provide a safe home in the future. Interventions may include drug and alcohol counseling, mental health treatment, and parenting classes. Parents may or may not have visitation during this period, and they may or may not be supervised during the visitation. At some point, the judge will need to decide whether the child can be returned to their parents’ home or whether termination proceedings will begin. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) usually requires the state agency to file a petition for termination if the child has been in foster care for 15 out of the last 22 months. Some states allow exceptions to this rule when the child is in the care of a relative, the state agency has not provided the necessary services to the parent, or there is another compelling reason. The burden is on the court to show that the parent is unfit. Since the right to parent one’s own child is considered very important, some states offer attorneys to indigent parents free of charge for these proceedings. If your parental rights are being threatened, a skilled family law attorney may be able to help you preserve your rights.
Reinstating Terminated Rights
Some states allow terminated rights to be reinstated in certain circumstances. For example, in some states, parents whose rights have been terminated can petition for reinstatement of their rights if the child is not permanently placed by a specific time. However, the parent must prove to the judge that they are fit in order for reinstatement to take place. Depending on where you live, you may be able to have your parental rights reinstated after they have been terminated by a court. While all states have provisions in the law for the termination of parental rights, most states do not allow for the reinstatement of these rights. But even in states that allow reinstatement, parents must be able to show an extraordinary improvement in their ability to properly care for a child before a court will grant such a request. When a court orders the termination of parental rights, the legal relationship between a parent and child ceases to exist. It is very rare and only occurs in especially serious cases, such as those involving child abuse or severe child neglect. And even though a parent may petition the court to voluntarily give up his or her parental rights, the main consideration is always the child’s best interests. Laws allowing reinstatement were drafted generally in response to older children who were aging out of foster care and wanted to re-establish family ties. Since this process is handled in state courts, the laws and procedures vary from one state to the next. At least nine states have laws allowing for reinstatement following termination of parental rights, including California, Illinois, North Carolina, and New York). Usually, reinstatement is available only on the condition that the child has not been permanently placed with a foster home within a given period of time. In states where this is available, a parent must file a petition with the court that originally terminated his or her parental rights. The court will determine whether the parent is fit to provide a safe and nurturing home for the child.
Differences in State Laws
Most states that allow for the reinstatement of parental rights require “clear and convincing” evidence that the parent is fit to care for their child. Nevada law has a much lower standard of proof (“preponderance of the evidence”), while North Carolina law even allows hearsay evidence in court proceedings if it is considered “relevant, reliable and necessary” to determine a child’s best interests. The qualifications for petitioning the court for reinstatement also vary from state to state. For instance, Alaska law restricts this remedy to only those who voluntarily relinquished their parental rights; Louisiana law allows children in foster care over the age of 15 to petition for reinstatement of their parents’ rights; and Washington law doesn’t specify who may or may not petition the court.
The following examples illustrate the differences in state laws:
• California: For eligibility, three years must pass from the date of termination (unless it is determined earlier that the child is not likely to be adopted); court must identify a factual basis for a finding that reinstatement is in the child’s best interest if the child is under 12.
• Nevada: Only the child or legal guardian of the child may petition the court to reinstate the natural parent’s rights; children 14 or older must consent to a reunion with an estranged parent, while the court must indicate a factual basis for reinstatement for children under 14.
• New York: Two years must pass after the date of termination in order to be eligible; the state advises birth parents who are granted reinstatement, helping to develop a reunification plan and transition services.
Typically, when people talk about the termination of parental rights, they are talking about involuntary termination by the court. However, in many circumstances, parents can also voluntarily terminate their parental rights. For example, some states will give parents incentives for voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights by allowing ongoing visitation with the child even after their rights are terminated. Voluntary termination may be in the best interests of all parties when there is a suitable permanent placement available for the child, and parents are unlikely to make the progress necessary for reunification.
Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
The phrase “termination of parental rights” can be the most frightening words a parent can hear. Fears of losing a child to the system can push a parent to work on improving their situation for the child’s benefit. However, to some, termination brings relief, as the parent knows that they can’t provide for the child but may have been unable to reach out for help. Some parents voluntarily terminate their parental interest as they feel it’s best for the child. The parental rights termination procedure is perhaps one of the strongest legal mechanisms available to protect children in need. In many cases, a termination proceeding is a necessary precursor to the adoption of the child. In some states and cases, it’s possible to reinstate parental rights after termination or consenting to adoption. The exact grounds for terminating parental rights vary from state to state. The following list summarizes the major grounds for terminating a parent’s rights to his or her child.
Child Abuse Factors
• Severe or chronic physical abuse of the child.
• Any sexual abuse of the child.
• Severe psychological abuse or torture of the child.
• Extreme emotional damage to the child inflicted by the parent.
• Child neglect by failing to provide shelter, food, or other needed care as is required by parental obligations.
• Abuse or neglect of other children in the same household.
• Abandonment of the child or extreme parental disinterest.
• Felony conviction of the parent for a violent crime against the child or another family member.
• The child would be at risk if returned to the parent’s home.
• Long-term mental illness of the parent.
• Long-term alcohol or drug induced incapacity of the parent.
• Failure to support the child.
• Failure to maintain contact with the child.
• Failure to provide education.
• Felony conviction of the parent when the term of imprisonment is long enough to negatively impact the child and the only other source of care for the child is foster care.
• Failure of the parent to comply with a court ordered plan.
• Inducing the child to commit a crime or crimes.
• Unreasonable withholding of consent to adoption by the non-custodial parent.
• The identity or location of the father is unknown after a reasonable attempt to determine or find him.
• The putative or presumptive father is not the child’s biological father.
• Giving birth to three or more drug affected infants.
• Other egregious conduct or heinous or abhorrent behavior by the parent either to the child or others in a way that affects the child.
• Voluntary relinquishment of rights by the parent.
• Failure of reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.
• The child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, and the parent is still not ready for reunification.
• Risk of substantial harm to the child.
• The child’s need for continuity and care.
• The child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.
• A newborn child is addicted to alcohol or drugs.
• The child has developed a strong and healthy relationship with his or her foster or other substitute family.
• The preference of the child.
Termination of Parental Rights Lawyer
When you need legal help with termination of parental rights in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506