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Utah Code 78A-6-503

Utah Code 78A-6-503

Utah Code Title 78A-6-503: Judicial process for termination, Parent unfit or incompetent and Best interest of child

• For this reason, the termination of family ties by the state may only be done for compelling reasons. Under both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, a parent possesses a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent’s child.

• The court shall provide a fundamentally fair process to a parent if a party moves to terminate parental rights.
• If the party moving to terminate parental rights is a governmental entity, the court shall find that any actions or allegations made in opposition to the rights and desires of a parent regarding the parent’s child are supported by sufficient evidence to satisfy a parent’s constitutional entitlement to heightened protection against government interference with the parent’s fundamental rights and liberty interests.
• The court should give serious consideration to the fundamental right of a parent to rear the parent’s child, and concomitantly, of the right of the child to be reared by the child’s natural parent. The fundamental liberty interest of a parent concerning the care, custody, and management of the parent’s child is recognized, protected, and does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent or because the parent’s child is placed in the temporary custody of the state.
• At all times, a parent retains a vital interest in preventing the irretrievable destruction of family life.
• Prior to an adjudication of unfitness, government action in relation to a parent and a parent’s child may not exceed the least restrictive means or alternatives available to accomplish a compelling state interest.
• Until parental unfitness is established and the children suffer, or are substantially likely to suffer, serious detriment as a result, the child and the child’s parent share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their relationship and the court may not presume that a child and the child’s parents are adversaries.

• For these reasons, the court should only transfer custody of a child from the child’s natural parent for compelling reasons and when there is a jurisdictional basis to do so. Additionally, the integrity of the family unit and the right of parents to conceive and raise their children are constitutionally protected.  A child’s need for a normal family life in a permanent home and for positive, nurturing family relationships is usually best met by the child’s natural parents. It is in the best interest and welfare of a child to be raised under the care and supervision of the child’s natural parents.
• The right of a fit, competent parent to raise the parent’s child without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and Constitution of this state and of the United States, and is a fundamental public policy of this state.
• The state recognizes that:
1. a parent has the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority to raise, manage, train, educate, provide for, and reasonably discipline the parent’s children;  and
2. the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.
3. It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of their children.
4. The interests of the state favor preservation and not severance of natural familial bonds in situations where a positive, nurturing parent-child relationship can exist, including extended family association and support.
• This part provides a judicial process for voluntary and involuntary severance of the parent-child relationship, designed to safeguard the rights and interests of all parties concerned and promote their welfare and that of the state.
• Wherever possible family life should be strengthened and preserved, but if a parent is found, by reason of his conduct or condition, to be unfit or incompetent based upon any of the grounds for termination described in this part, the court shall then consider the welfare and best interest of the child of paramount importance in determining whether termination of parental rights shall be ordered.

Termination of parental rights is a court order that permanently ends the legal parent-child relationship.

This type of order terminates rights such as inheritance, custody, and visitation, as well as responsibilities such as child support and liability for the child’s misconduct. Parental rights can be terminated voluntarily by the parent(s) to allow an agency, independent, or stepparent adoption to take place. Parental rights may also be terminated involuntarily when the court finds one or both parents to be unfit. In general, the court will only order the termination of parental rights if someone else is prepared to assume those rights, usually by adopting the child. The court will not order the termination of parental rights if that would leave the child with only one parent responsible for care and support.

Juvenile Dependency Court

The child becomes a ward of the court when someone (usually CPS) reports mistreatment. Termination is involuntary when the court finds that the parents have abused, neglected, or abandoned a child, and/or that the parent suffers from some mental or physical incapacity, including substance abuse, that prevents them from caring for the child. Parental rights are terminated in these situations so that the child may be adopted.

Family Court Adoption Proceedings Lawyer

Both birth parents may voluntarily terminate their parental rights when relinquishing the child for an agency or independent adoption. Termination is with the consent of the non-custodial parent, or without their consent if the court finds that the parent has willfully abandoned the child. The father’s parental rights can be terminated without his consent if the court finds that his continuing relationship is not in the child’s best interest. Termination of parental rights is seen by the courts and should be seen by litigants as an extremely serious matter. As a biological or adopted parent of a child, one has certain rights that cannot easily be taken away. While you may feel that your deadbeat ex isn’t worthy of the privilege of time with your child, the courts look on the matter differently, taking a child’s needs and well-being into account over a parent’s personal grievances. “Parental rights cannot be terminated in family court at the request of one parent simply because the other parent is a ‘bad parent.’ The inclination of the court is always to preserve the parental relationship if possible. However, that in extreme cases of abuse or neglect, parental rights may be terminated. “These cases are not initiated by one parent or the other. These cases fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile dependency courts and are generally referred by child protective services.

Revoking parental rights, awarding sole legal and physical custody to the complaining parent is akin to the death penalty of parenting, as it strips full decision-making authority and eliminates parenting time for the other parent. Consequently, modifications in child custody and parenting time are more likely to be the legalities that are adjusted when one parent questions the other’s dedication to their children. And even when parental rights are terminated, the banished parent might subsequently regain his or her rights. It’s critical to understand exactly what you’re giving up by pressing to terminate parental rights. While your life may be easier without the stress of your fellow parent’s behavior in the picture, there is the financial aspect to consider. “You are also terminating their parental responsibilities, including financial child support, and the child’s right to potentially take under a parent’s will or under state intestacy laws.” Keep in mind that to win a case to terminate parental rights, you’ll need to present very persuasive evidence to the court, such as lack of contact, lack of support, abandonment, abuse, neglect, ongoing indifference, or failure to care for the child. You’ll have to show that the other parent is a danger to the child or is actively trying to destroy the relationship between the child and the custodial parent. For instance, if the non-custodial parent is trying to alienate the child from the custodial parent, the court could very well terminate all parenting time for the non-custodial parent and keep that parent out of the decision-making process for the child. But even such evidence might not be sufficient. Any shred of hope in the parent-child relationship wills most likely result in a denial of the request to terminate parental rights.”

Stepping Into A New Role

Termination of parental rights may be slightly easier to achieve if the request is made in the context of an adoption, where a stepparent comes in to take the place of the biological parent. There are still hoops to jump through to achieve termination of parental rights before a stepparent can adopt a child. The parent requesting termination must prove that the other parent has completely failed to contact the child, has failed to financially support the child, or has abandoned the child, or that the other parent is unknown and cannot be found. When you’re locked in a child custody battle with your former spouse, you want to ensure that you conduct yourself in a positive way to improve your chances of getting preferential custody. Even if you are an excellent parent, you need to prove it in a court of law if you want to see your children, and your word alone isn’t enough to satisfy a judge. In order to reach the best possible outcome, you need to not only prove that you are an excellent parent, you need to illustrate that your former spouse is a less dependable choice. As a parent, you must always be cognizant when keeping records for your children. If you don’t practice careful recordkeeping, your children will be at a disadvantage when it comes to school, health, and overall happiness. Loving parents are always involved in every aspect of their children’s lives, and they have the documents to prove it. Keep a file of the following records to prove that you are a great parent:
• Birth Certificate
• Social Security Card
• Academic Transcripts
• Behavioral Reports
• Awards and Certifications
• Health Records
When you’re making your claim for custody in court, you want to effectively communicate why your children will be safer with you than your former spouse. Pleading for custody and promising that you will be the better parent isn’t going to convince the judge that you deserve preferential custody. Utilizing a story that showcases your devotion to your children is a more effective strategy for appealing to the judge’s logos and pathos.

Perhaps you can tell a story about a time when you were there for your children when your spouse was unavailable or maybe you can detail some of the important and unique connections you share with your children. Either way, you want the judge to perceive your relationship with your children as vital to their well-being and development. In the context of family laws, an “unfit mother legal proceeding” is a legal proceeding in which a mother’s ability and willingness to raise a child or children is examined by the court. Generally speaking, any parent or guardian can be deemed unfit based on their actions or conduct. However, these proceedings are called “unfit mother” proceedings because, in a disputed custody situation, the biological mother is traditionally granted custody unless otherwise specified.
Factors that can lead a court to deem a parent unfit include:
• Instances of abuse or neglect;
• Willing failure to provide the child with basic necessities or needs;
• Abandonment of the child or children; or
• Exposing the child to emotionally harmful or psychologically damaging situations

State laws may differ with regard to these proceedings, but if a father, mother, or legal guardian of a child is deemed to be unfit, it may result in various consequences. These are broadly intended to place the child in a better position of care. These consequences may include:
• Loss of child custody or visitation privileges;
• Loss of the ability to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child;
• Transfer of custody to another parent or guardian as deemed by the court; or
• Placement of the child or children for adoption.
In some cases, a ruling of unfit parent can have effects in other areas of the parent’s life. For instance, civil damages can also result if the child or other parties have suffered major injuries or losses due to the parent’s actions.

In cases of serious or ongoing abuse, criminal charges can also result. In order to deem a parent unfit, the court first needs to be provided with sufficient evidence in support of such accusations. This can come in various forms including witness testimony, police reports, school reports, and other sources. Also, courts may also examine the mental health and physical state of the child as part of the analysis. If there is no basis for such a ruling, then the court will generally dismiss the accusation of being unfit. In fact, many frivolous legal proceedings involve false accusations of unfit parenthood by the other parent. Filing a frivolous legal claim can result in serious negative legal consequences for that parent. In recognition of these types of concerns and issues, courts will make all custody decisions using the child’s best interest standard. This means that they will examine all evidence and circumstances in order to create the parenthood arrangement that most benefits the child.

Can a Non-Parent Become a Child’s Guardian?

In some cases, the court may need to appoint a person who is not the child’s biological parent to step in and become the child’s legal guardian. This can happen in a wide range of circumstances, and can involve many different situations. A non-parent may be appointed guardian in situations such as:
• Both biological parents of the child were deemed unfit by the court;
• One parent was deemed unfit, and the other biological parent became incapacitated;
• One or both of the parents became deceased;
• One or both of the parents became incarcerated or otherwise unavailable; and
• Various other unique, but uncommon, circumstances.
In most cases, the courts will try and select a guardian who can do fulfill their role and responsibilities well. They may select persons such as:
• Close relatives, such as an aunt, uncle, or other similar family members;
• Grandparents of the child on either side;
• Close family friends who are trustworthy and preferably have an established relationship or prior contact with the child; or
• Any other adult whom the court deems as meeting the requirements for guardianship.

In many cases, courts may often appoint the grandparents of the child to be the legal guardian or guardians. This is because in many instances, the grandparents already have a previous relationship to the child or children, and are often in a position financially to provide for children. Unfit parent proceedings can involve some major legal decisions and issues that can determine the child’s upbringing. You may need to hire a child custody lawyer in your area if you or a loved one will be involved in any type of unfit parent determination. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and research to determine what types of legal rights you have. Also, if you need to file a claim or if you need to appear in family court, your lawyer will be able to represent you during the process as well.

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It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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