Termination of Parental Rights
Under Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes, dependency actions can sometimes result in the Termination of Parental Rights. In such cases no termination can occur until and unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that valid grounds exist AND that terminating the parent’s rights is in the manifest best interest of the Child.
Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights
Under Chapter 39, the following include some (but not all) of the grounds under which the state of Florida can petition to terminate a parent’s rights:
- When the parent or parents voluntarily surrendered the child. This is usually done by a sworn, notarized document executed in front of two witnesses and properly notarized. Such a document should never be executed without extensive consultation by an experienced dependency attorney who regularly represents parents in Pinellas, Pasco, or Hillsborough County and is familiar with how to best protect a parent’s rights.
- When the parent is found to have abandoned the child. “Abandonment” in a Dependency Case has a specific legal definition that in many ways is broader than the common definition of that word. Consult an experienced dependency attorney familiar with a parent’s rights to determine if the alleged actions, (or inaction) may constitute abandonment.
- When the parent’s conduct threatens the health, safety and well-being of the child. Such conduct can include, but is not limited to, repeated, confirmed substance abuse incidents that may affect the child.
- Parental incarceration. If a parent is incarcerated for a “significant” portion of the child’s remaining minor childhood. In Florida, the law on this particular ground has recently changed and is still developing. If you have questions on how a parent’s incarceration might affect his or her parental rights, consult an experienced dependency attorney who can address how the incarceration can affect the parent’s rights.
- Failure of a parent to complete a court-ordered case plan within 12 months from the date his or her child was found to be dependent, or placed in shelter care. In Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough county, this is easily one of the most common grounds for termination of parental rights.
- Egregious conduct. “Egregious Conduct” can be any conduct that the court finds to be flagrant or outrageous, and can be found even if the conduct only occurs once. Some extreme examples of egregious conduct can be severely hurting the child, or a sibling of the child, as well as severely hurting the child’s other parent. Also, this ground can apply to either parent when the abuse is performed by one parent, but a court finds the other parent could have prevented the abuse and failed to do so.
- When the parent previously has his or her rights to other children involuntarily terminated, or had other children who involuntarily removed from his or her home three or more times.
Understanding the State's Limits on Parental TerminationPlease note that even if the state can prove valid grounds for termination, it also must find that such a finding would be in the best interests of the child. Under Chapter 39 of the Florida statutes, there are at least 11 specific findings a court must consider before making such a finding.
If you have any questions about the process the courts must go through to terminate a parent’s rights, you are encouraged to consult an experienced dependency attorney to assist you. There may be many defenses and alternatives available to protect your parental rights