What Factors Would Lead To The Termination Of Parental And/or Custodial Rights?

If a parent has abused, neglected, or been absent from a child’s life, then that can constitute grounds to terminate parental rights. However, the court must also determine that it is in the child’s best interests to do so. Just because a parent has abused or neglected a child, it does not necessarily mean that termination of the parent’s parental relationship with the child should occur. For example, consider a situation in which a parent loses their temper on a really bad day and spanks their child, causing welts. The incident occurred on one occasion, it is not habitual, and it is unlikely to occur again. Technically, the grounds for termination of parental rights exist, i.e., they physically abused the child. However, a court would likely conclude that it isn’t in the child’s best interest to terminate the parent–child relationship based solely on a single event.

In situations where abuse, neglect, or risk to a child is chronic or ongoing, termination of parental rights is more likely to be in the child’s best interest. The same can be said in situations where a child is being negatively psychologically affected to a severe degree.

What Are My Options If A Child I Care About Is Being Neglected?

If you have a suspicion that a child is being neglected, you are a mandatory reporter under Utah law. As such, you are required to make a report to DCFS. There is a DCFS hotline where you can make a telephone call and report on what you think is going on. If you want to do more than that, then you have various options. I’m going to break these options into two different sections: one for parents of a potentially neglected child, and one for non-parents of a potentially neglected child.

If the parent of a child believes the child is being neglected, the allegation is usually that the other parent or the other parent’s spouse or significant other is the one neglecting the child. Under these circumstances, the concerned parent has an option to file in the district court for a restraining order against the conduct of the offending party. They would ask for no contact or for supervised contact between the child and the offending party. If necessary, they would ask for a change in custody or a change in parent time.

All of these options are available in divorce matters, custody matters, paternity cases, and in any case where the district court has awarded custody to one party and visitation to the other. You can file a new case, or you can request the modification to the order in an old case. You can also file a petition to terminate the rights of the other parent. If the neglect or abuse is severe enough, you may file a petition to adopt the child. In that case, you would need to demonstrate that there are grounds to terminate parental or custodial rights and that doing so would be in the child’s best interest.

I’ve had cases where stepparent adoption was allowed to occur due to neglect by the other parent. I’ve also had cases where parental rights were terminated even though there was not a stepparent waiting in the wings to adopt. If a petition to terminate is accompanied by an adoption petition, then the termination and adoption case can be filed in district court rather than in juvenile court. This is significant because in district court, the other party will not be entitled to a court-appointed attorney, whereas in juvenile court they might. So, those are the basic options available to parents who believe that the other parent or another individual is neglecting or abusing their child.

If a non-parent is concerned that a child is being neglected or abused by the legal parents of a child, then they can file a petition for custody. Alternatively, they can file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the natural parents and to adopt. In order to file a petition for custody, there does not necessarily have to be a blood relation. There are circumstances under which they can file a petition for custody even if they have never cared for a child as a custodian or guardian before. There are other types of petitions where they can seek custody of a child, in part because they have been caring for that child in place of the natural parents. If there is evidence of physical or sexual abuse of a child, any interested party—whether they are related to the child or not—can file a request for a child protective order preventing contact or limiting and supervising the contact between the offending party and a child.

For more information on Termination Of Parental Rights, Modification of Custody, or Non-Parent Custody 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