Termination of Parental Rights is the severing of the parent-child relationship by the state. Such a decision may be based upon among other factors, abandonment by a parent, child abuse, unfitness of a parent, and other injuries to a child.
What is the Legal Standard for a Termination of Parental Rights?
While there may be other grounds for the filing of a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights(TPR), like mental illness, most commonly a TPR is based on a claim of ‘permanent neglect.’ Permanent Neglect is defined as a child who is in the care of an authorized agency and whose parent or custodian has failed for a period of at least one year or fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months following the date such child came into the care of an authorized agency substantially and continuously or repeatedly to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child although physically and financially able to do so, notwithstanding the agency’s diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship.
How is it Determined?
In order to sustain their burden, generally DSS must show at a hearing of the matter that a parent has permanently neglected the child. Permanent Neglect occurs where a parent substantially and continuously or repeatedly fails to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child although physically and financially able to do so, notwithstanding DSS’s diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship.
Does the Filing of a Termination of Parental Rights Petition Automatically Mean That My Parental Rights Will Be Terminated?
No. A parent has the right to a hearing on the matter where she can present evidence and even testify on her own behalf to refute any claims against her made by the County (DSS). Even where the Court finds permanent neglect, it is possible for the Court to suspend judgment in these matters thereby allowing the parent more time to demonstrate to the Court that she has remedied the situation that brought the family to Court.
What Happens if My Parental Rights Are Terminated?
Where the Court orders the termination of a parent’s rights, then legally the person is no longer considered to be the parent of the child and the child will be freed for adoption. Sadly, the parent will no longer have the right to have contact with the child or to have any control over the child’s future.
Do I Have the Right to Counsel?
Yes. Normally, a respondent is already represented at the time a TPR Petition is filed, however if she is not then she should be advised of her right to counsel at her first appearance in Court. If she is unable to afford an attorney, one will be provided to her free of charge by the Assigned Counsel Program.