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Utah Code 78A-6-508

Utah Code 78A-6-508

Evidence Of Grounds For Termination

1. In determining whether a parent or parents have abandoned a child, it is prima facie evidence of abandonment that the parent or parents:
a) although having legal custody of the child, have surrendered physical custody of the child, and for a period of six months following the surrender have not manifested to the child or to the person having the physical custody of the child a firm intention to resume physical custody or to make arrangements for the care of the child;

b) have failed to communicate with the child by mail, telephone, or otherwise for six months;
c) failed to have shown the normal interest of a natural parent, without just cause;  or
d) have abandoned an infant, as described in Subsection 78A-6-316(1).
2. In determining whether a parent or parents are unfit or have neglected a child the court shall consider, but is not limited to, the following circumstances, conduct, or conditions:
a) emotional illness, mental illness, or mental deficiency of the parent that renders the parent unable to care for the immediate and continuing physical or emotional needs of the child for extended periods of time;
b) conduct toward a child of a physically, emotionally, or sexually cruel or abusive nature;
c) habitual or excessive use of intoxicating liquors, controlled substances, or dangerous drugs that render the parent unable to care for the child;
d) repeated or continuous failure to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, or other care necessary for the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health and development by a parent or parents who are capable of providing that care;
e) whether the parent is incarcerated as a result of conviction of a felony, and the sentence is of such length that the child will be deprived of a normal home for more than one year;
f) a history of violent behavior;  or
g) whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to a minor, as defined in Section 76-10-1201.
3. A parent who, legitimately practicing the parent’s religious beliefs, does not provide specified medical treatment for a child is not, for that reason alone, a negligent or unfit parent.
4. (a) Notwithstanding Subsection (2), a parent may not be considered neglectful or unfit because of a health care decision made for a child by the child’s parent unless the state or other party to the proceeding shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the health care decision is not reasonable and informed.
(b) Nothing in Subsection (4)(a) may prohibit a parent from exercising the right to obtain a second health care opinion.
5. If a child has been placed in the custody of the division and the parent or parents fail to comply substantially with the terms and conditions of a plan within six months after the date on which the child was placed or the plan was commenced, whichever occurs later, that failure to comply is evidence of failure of parental adjustment.
6. The following circumstances constitute prima facie evidence of unfitness:

a) sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, injury, or death of a sibling of the child, or of any child, due to known or substantiated abuse or neglect by the parent or parents;
b) conviction of a crime, if the facts surrounding the crime are of such a nature as to indicate the unfitness of the parent to provide adequate care to the extent necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development;
c) a single incident of life-threatening or gravely disabling injury to or disfigurement of the child;
d) the parent has committed, aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit murder or manslaughter of a child or child abuse homicide;  or
e) the parent intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes the death of another parent of the child, without legal justification.
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. 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 will most likely result in a denial of the request to terminate parental rights.

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 All biological parents have the right to physical custody of the child, as well as the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of their child. Family law generally recognizes these parental rights regardless of the level of parental involvement in the child’s life.

In addition to physical custody rights they will also have legal rights. Some examples of legal parental rights can include:

• Decisions regarding the level or type of medical treatment a child receives, like having surgery or being vaccinated;

• Where a child lives;

• Where a child goes to school; and

• Making decisions about a child’s religious upbringing.

If a parent is absent from their child’s life, and then they will generally still have these parental rights. The other biological parent would need to bring a court action to terminate the absent parent’s rights if they so desired. An absent parent is often viewed as someone who has appeared to abandon their child. They may not live with the child or make an effort to see or bond with their child for several months or years. This can often leave the other parent to raise the child on their own.

What Parental Duties Must Biological Parent Uphold?

Under family laws, biological parents are expected to perform certain parental duties for their child. The two major duties that are generally expected from biological parents are:

• Duty to Care for the Child: This includes meeting a child’s physical, mental and emotional needs, and reasonably protecting a child from outside harm or abuse; and

• The Duty to Provide for the Child: This includes providing a child with basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care, education and other financial needs.

An absent parent will usually not fulfill these parental duties since they will not be present in the child’s life. As such, the other biological parent may sometimes attempt to terminate the absent parent’s parental rights. In order to terminate their rights, a petition to terminate an absent parent’s parental rights will need to be filed in family court. The judge will then proceed to review the case and the circumstances and determine whether parental rights should be terminated. The other biological parent will usually be the person filing the petition with the family law court.

However, in situations where the other parent is also absent or deceased, another family member, legal guardian or state agency can request that parental rights be terminated. In order to request that an absent parent’s parental rights be terminated, the petitioner must prove various points. In most cases, they must prove that the absent parent has acted in a way that does not promote the child’s best interests. Some common examples of this may include:

• Abandonment of the child (this is often the most common ground for requesting termination of an absent parent’s parental rights. In most states, the biological parent must show that the absent parent has not seen or contacted the child for at least four months);

• Neglecting or abusing the child;

• Acting in a manner that is considered unfit to parent the child (being a drug addict or participating in illegal activities that could harm the child are examples of this);

• Committing a crime;

• Abusing the other biological parent (a.k.a. domestic violence; and/or

• Not being the actual biological parent of the child (as proven by a DNA test).

Keep in mind that most judges are hesitant to completely terminate a biological parent’s rights. Many courts will consider the termination request, but may only grant the request in circumstances that show clear abandonment or other extreme behavior by the absent parent. If a step-parent (or another individual) is trying to adopt the child, this will generally help sway a judge to grant the petition. If not, the judge may still grant a parent certain legal rights, such as implementing a new visitation schedule. If a parent’s rights have been officially terminated, then that person is no longer considered the legal parent of the child. That person will no longer have any rights to make any decisions on behalf of the child or have custody/visitation rights. That person will also not be required to pay child support, since they are no longer viewed as a parent in the eyes of the law. On top of that, the child will no longer have the right to inherit from their biological parent, who has now lost their parental rights.

Grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights

Utah law clearly outlines several situations in which an involuntary termination of parental rights may occur. For example, a court could order a mother to terminate her rights if she has a child who is born and clearly experiences withdrawal due to the mother abusing a substance while pregnant.

Other circumstances in which a parent may be required to terminate rights include the following:

• If the parent is found to have abandoned the child, even if it is with someone else

• If the parent knowingly put the child in harm’s way

• If the parent fails to support the child for a certain period of time

• If the parent has been convicted of a crime pertaining to the death or serious injury of a child

Terminating the legal rights of an absent parent can be extremely complex and emotional. This is especially true if the absent parent cannot be located. The burden of proof generally will be on the person who is filing the petition; they must prove that the absent parent’s parental rights should be terminated and that it is in the child’s best interests. Keep in mind that the procedure and evidence needed will vary based on your state’s laws. In this situation it is important to consult with a local child custody lawyer to discuss your legal options and rights. An attorney can also help you gather information and evidence to navigate the family court process.

Termination of Parental Rights Lawyer

When you need 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.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506
Ascent Law LLC
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