The termination of a parent’s legal rights to a child is a complex and sensitive legal action. Due to the permanency and significant effect of this action, the Florida Legislature and Courts have established specific procedures for the termination of parental rights. It is imperative if you are seeking to terminate parental rights of another, or have been served with an action seeking to terminate your own parental rights, to seek out an experienced child custody attorney to gain understanding and aggressive representation of your rights.
Under Florida Statute 39.806, parental rights may be terminated due to a number of circumstances including: voluntary surrender by the parent; abandonment; conduct that threatens the life, safety, well-being, physical, mental or emotional health of the child; when a parent is incarcerated; when the state has adjudicated the child as dependent and the case plan has been violated; physical or sexual abuse; substance abuse; or a parent’s rights have been previously terminated involving another child.
If there are grounds for the termination the first step is to file a petition with the court seeking to terminate parental rights, with substantial detail as to why the court should terminate the parental relationship. This petition can be filed by the State, a Guardian ad litem, or an individual who has custody of the child. The petition, with a notice of the date, time, and place of the subsequent hearing on the petition, must be served on all necessary parties including biological parents, individuals with physical or legal custody of the child, if the parents are deceased any living relative of the child, any grandparent entitled to priority for adoption, any prospective parent, and the guardian ad litem for the child. If a party who has been served with the above documents does not appear, their absence constitutes a consent to the termination of parental rights.
Termination of Parental Right Hearings are closed, meaning only the noticed parties along with their legal counsel are allowed to be present. The court will begin by explaining the purpose of the hearing, offer legal counsel to parents as a matter of right, and appoint a guardian ad litem if one has not been provided. The court will then receive evidence and testimony in support of the petition filed. Testimony of witnesses, parties, case workers, teachers, family members, doctors, and experts may be offered in addition to physical evidence such as photographs, text messages, reports, or criminal records. In order to substantiate an order of termination of parental rights, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s rights should be terminated, and such action is in the best interest of the child. 39.809 The court will ensure that services have been provided in an attempt to reunify the family, consider the reasonable preference of an age appropriate child, seek out relative placements for the child, and determine if the child has any siblings where visitation would be appropriate. If the best interest of the child is shown through clear and convincing evidence, the court will terminate the parental rights.
The process of terminating a parent’s rights can be a lengthy and complex court action involving a number of parties. However, you must be aware of your rights and the statutory regulations regarding this significant process. Your attorney will ensure you are properly informed and your rights are protected during this legal action.
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