Sometimes circumstances exist where a parent seeks to terminate the parental rights of the other parent. When a parent’s rights are terminated by the court, the result is that the legal relationship between the parent and child is permanently severed. In other words, in the eyes of the law, the parent is no longer the child’s parent.
THE ADOPTION PROCESS IN NORTH CAROLINA
This process begins with the filing of a petition by the parent who is seeking to terminate the other parent’s rights. A common question we receive is from a parent who wants to terminate his/her rights and wants to know what to file. The other parent/legal custodian must file the petition to terminate parental rights, not the parent whose rights are to be severed.
In deciding whether to terminate parental rights, the court must go through two separate stages. First, the court must determine if grounds exist for terminating the rights. If the court determines that such grounds do exist, then the court must decide whether terminating the parental rights is in the best interest of the child.
GROUNDS FOR TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
The various grounds for termination of parental rights are listed in North Carolina General Statute Section 7B-1111(a) and are summarized as follows:
- The parent has abused or neglected the child.
- The parent has willfully (i.e. voluntarily) left the juvenile in foster care or placement outside the home for more than twelve months. However, parental rights shall not be terminated if the only reason that the parent is unable to care for the child is due to poverty.
- The child has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services or a foster home for a continuous period of six months, and the parent has willfully failed during this time to pay the reasonable cost of care for the child despite being physically and financially able to do so.
- One parent has been awarded custody of the child by the court or has custody by agreement between the parents, and the other parent whose parental rights are sought to be terminated has for a period of at least one year willfully failed to pay child support as required by a court order or custody agreement.
- If the child was born out of wedlock, the father whose parental rights are sought to be terminated has not done any of the following:
- Filed an affidavit of paternity in a registry maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Legitimated the child or established paternity as provided by North Carolina statutes.
- Legitimated the child by marriage to the child’s mother.
- Provided substantial financial support or consistent care for the child and the child’s mother.
- The parent is incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of the child, and the parent will be incapable of doing so for the foreseeable future (for example, such incapability may be due to substance abuse or mental disability).
- The parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least six months.
- The parent has voluntarily abandoned an infant (defined as being less than seven days old) pursuant to North Carolina General Statute Section 7B-500 for at least sixty consecutive days
- The parent has committed murder, voluntary manslaughter, or felony assault that results in serious bodily injury of the child, another child of the parent, or another child residing in the parent’s home.
- The parent has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of the child’s other parent.
- The parent’s rights have been terminated with respect to another child, and the parent lacks the ability or willingness to establish a safe home.
- The child has been relinquished to a county department of social services, a licensed child-placing adoption agency, or a prospective adoptive parent for adoption. Additionally, the consent or relinquishment to adoption by the parent has become irrevocable except upon a showing of fraud, duress, or other circumstances. Also, the relevant jurisdiction requires termination of parental rights before granting an adoption. Finally, the parent does not contest the termination of parental rights.
- The parent has been convicted of a sexually related criminal offense that resulted in the conception of the child.
WORKING IN THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS
Once the court determines that one or more of these grounds exists, the court must then decide whether terminating the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest. The court shall consider the following factors, as stated in North Carolina General Statute Section 7B-1110(a), in making its determination:
- The child’s age.
- The likelihood that the child will be adopted.
- Whether terminating the parent’s rights will aid the permanent plan for the child.
- The bond between the child and the parent.
- The quality of the relationship between the child and any proposed adoptive parent, guardian, custodian, or other permanent placement.
- Any other relevant considerations.
Thus, the court will first consider whether grounds exist to terminate the parent’s rights. Once the court determines that these grounds exist, the court will decide whether terminating the parent’s rights serves the child’s best interest. If the court decides that grounds to terminate parental rights exist and that such a termination is in the child’s best interest, the court will issue an order terminating all parental and custodial rights of that parent as to the child.