Terminating a parent’s rights is not easy. It is irreversible, and completely severs a parent’s connection with the child. Parents have Constitutional rights to raise their children, and the state must have an extremely strong reason to overcome those rights. Thus, judges are understandably reluctant to terminate parental rights. Grounds for terminating rights include abandonment, a child’s continuing need of protection and services after the child’s removal from the parent’s home, parental disability, child abuse, incest, commission of a felony against a child, and failure to assume parental responsibility. The judge must first determine that there are grounds to terminate rights and the parent is unfit. Second, the judge must determine if rights should be terminated.
The process is a bit less complicated if stepparent is willing to adopt, and the biological parent is willing to terminate rights. In this case, the court is aware that the child will not be left with only one parent. Once the terminating parent satisfies the court that the consent is voluntary, and the adopting parent demonstrates that he is an appropriate parent, the judge will typically permit the termination.
The process to terminate rights is complicated, and must be followed to the letter. Judges insist on adherence to these specific rules because of the serious consequences to the terminated parent. Even the slightest mistake can cause the judge to reject the petition to terminate rights. Even if the judge rules to terminate rights, the parent can appeal that decision and may succeed based on even a slight irregularity. Even in the case of a parent’s consent to termination, the court must be convinced that the that decision is voluntary and unforced.
No parent should attempt to either terminate rights or adopt without the assistance of an experienced lawyer. The requirements are extremely complex, and the consequences for even a small mistake are serious. I encourage any parent facing this issue to contact me for assistance.