Under What Circumstances Will A Parent’s Or Guardian’s Rights Be Terminated?

In order for a parent’s rights to be terminated, typically the court will have to make a finding that the parent has abused, neglected, or abandoned the child. However, that finding in and of itself is not sufficient to terminate a parent’s parental rights. In addition to finding abuse, neglect, or abandonment, the court also has to determine that it is in the child’s best interests to sever that relationship. There are some cases where the child’s relationship with the neglectful or abandoning parent has survived the detrimental effects of the neglect or abandonment, and there is still a strong benefit to maintaining that relationship. If that is the case, that parent’s parental rights might not be terminated.

However, if the petition to terminate the parental rights is also accompanied by an adoption petition, and, as an added layer, might also include the relationship with the adopting stepparent, the court might consider whether the child being adopted by the stepparent will benefit the child more than maintaining a parent–child relationship with the neglectful, abusive, or abandoning parent. One does not have to accompany a termination petition with the adoption petition. There are some circumstances where it is appropriate to seek to terminate the parental rights, even if there isn’t a step-parent or someone else waiting in the wings to adopt the child.

For example, in one case I was involved in, the natural parent’s parental rights were terminated, even though no one was seeking to adopt, because the natural parent was continually exposing the children to drug use and corrupting the children into a drug lifestyle. In that case, the father sought to terminate the mother’s parental rights, just so that he could prevent any contact between the mother and the child. After demonstrating the harmful effects of the drug-using parent in this case, the court agreed that even though there was not a stepparent waiting in the wings to adopt, the mother’s parental rights should be terminated. The bottom line is that grounds for termination must exist, and termination must be found to be in the best interests of the child.

How Can Someone Protect Their Parental Rights After Being Accused Of Abandonment In Utah?

The number one piece of advice I would give is to have as much contact with your child as you can, beginning immediately. Birthday cards, Christmas gifts, visits, phone calls, emails, text messages—not to the point where it’s harassing the child or the person that has custody—but having as much contact with the child as is reasonably possible. Next, if grounds for termination of parental rights—including abandonment—exist, the defense will focus on what’s in the child’s best interests, rather than the grounds. You need to attempt to demonstrate all of the reasons why it would be more beneficial for the child to continue to have the parent–child relationship with you, than to have that relationship severed.

This can take a variety of forms, and it is a fact-sensitive analysis that must be determined on a case-by-case basis. If it is inappropriate to terminate parental rights, one service I offer is to help defend parents against inappropriate petitions to terminate, particularly in District Court, or the private petitions that have been filed in Juvenile court (i.e. the petition was not filed by the state of Utah, DCFS or the Attorney General’s office but by another private party).

Who Can Allege Child Abandonment? Can a Grandparent, Stepparent Or Non-Parent Allege Child Abandonment?

Any parent, stepparent, grandparent, or other relative can allege child abandonment and file a petition to obtain custody. In addition, any interested party, even if not related to the child, can also file a petition to obtain custody alleging abandonment, if both parents have neglected, abused, or abandoned the child. I have devoted an entire section of articles on non-parent, grandparent, or stepparent custody, which the reader can also refer to on my website.

What Can I Do If I Suspect A Child Is Being Abandoned?

If only one parent has abandoned the child, usually the person asking this question above will be the non-abandoning parent, usually the one who has custody. If that parent suspects abandonment by the other parent, they are obligated to report that to DCFS. They can also file a petition to limit the child’s parent time, request that the other parent’s parent time be supervised, or request that the other parent have a parental fitness evaluation. If the custodial parent believes that sufficient grounds exist to terminate the other parent’s parental rights, and that it is in the child’s best interests to do so, then they also file a termination of parental rights petition. If that petitioning parent wishes their spouse, the child’s stepparent, to adopt the child, then with the termination petition they may also file a petition for adoption by the stepparent.

If a grandparent, relative, or other non-parent suspects abandonment, neglect, or abuse, or has evidence of abandonment, neglect, or abuse by both parents, they must report it to DCFS. They should also file a petition, either for custody or to terminate parental rights and adopt, depending on the circumstances. For all the petitions, motions, and defenses referenced above, the Law Office Of Kelly Peterson regularly serves clients in these areas and is experienced in handling these kinds of motions and petitions.

For more information on Termination Of Parental Rights, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children