Termination of Parental Rights Issues in NC Divorce
- What is Termination of Parental Rights?
- Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights
- Who May Petition for Termination of Parental Rights?
- The Procedure for Terminating Parental Rights
- The Effects of Losing Parental Rights
What is Termination of Parental Rights?
A parent has a constitutionally protected civil right to the custody, control and care of his or her children. When a parent abandons those responsibilities, the court may take the permanent and irreversible legal action of terminating that parent’s relationship with his or her children. It is considered to be the most extreme legal action in family law.
Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
In North Carolina, grounds for terminating parental rights include:
- The parent has willingly abandoned the child for more than six months preceding the filing of a petition for Termination of Parental Rights (TPR);
- Abuse or neglect of the child;
- Willfully leaving a child or in foster care for more than 12 months;
- Failing to pay child support for more than a year in defiance of a court order or other agreement;
- The father of a child born out of wedlock making no attempt to establish paternity and/or failing to financially support the child;
- The parent is physically, mentally, or in some other way, in capable of providing care for the child;
- The parent murdered, attempted to murder or seriously harmed another of his or her children or another child residing in his or her home;
- Other statutory grounds set forth in N.C.G.S. 7B-1111.
Who May Petition for Termination of Parental Rights?
Usually a petition to terminate parental rights is filed by a parent whose new spouse wishes to adopt the parent’s child from a previous relationship, or by the Department of Social Services (DSS) when a child has been abused or neglected. In the case of DSS, the agency is required by statute to make reunification efforts for the child and the offending parent who is alleged to have abused or neglected the child. Generally, a 12-month period is allowed for re-unification efforts prior to the agency being allowed to petition for TPR.
In the case of a private TPR by a parent and step-parent, the same factors of N.C.G.S. 7B-1111 must be alleged. In those cases, the child must have resided with the parent and step-parent for at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition for TPR.
The burden of proof in termination of parental rights cases is clear and convincing evidence. This is a much higher burden than the “greater weight of the evidence” standard of proof in other civil cases.
A person may not petition the court to terminate his or her own parental rights to escape the responsibility of child support payments.
More details about who can petition to terminate parental rights are available in North Carolina General Statute 7B-1103.
The Procedure for Terminating Parental Rights
The person who seeks termination of another’s parental rights must file a petition to the court stating grounds (as set forth in N.C.G.S. 7B-1111 to warrant the drastic legal action.
The petition must also establish that termination of parental rights will be in the best interests of the child. In making that determination, the court will consider the child’s age, how likely it is that the child will be adopted and whether the termination will advance a permanent plan for the child’s present and future. The court will also consider the relationship or bond between the parent and the child and between the prospective parent and the child.
The Effects of Losing Parental Rights
If the petition to terminate parental rights succeeds, the legal relationship between the parent and child ends permanently. Consequently, the parent’s rights and obligations to the child are terminated. All rights of inheritance are extinguished. All duty of support is extinguished. The parent has the same legal status as a stranger to the child, cannot visit or contact the child, and loses any input as to the child’s life or daily living.
The parent may appeal the decision, or under very limited circumstances, the parent’s rights may be reinstated. There are a number of conditions that must be satisfied before a petition for reinstatement can be filed:
- The TPR order must be at least three years old before the petition can be filed.
- The child must be at least 12 years old (extraordinary circumstances must be shown if the child is less than 12 years old).
- The child does not have a legal parent, is not in an adoptive placement and is not likely to be adopted.
Greenville NC Termination of Parental Rights
and Family Law Attorney Cynthia Mills
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