When Courts Terminate Parental Rights
Raising a child is one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences a person can have, which is accomplished through consistent and thorough contact with a child over a span of years. While daily interaction with a child is ideal, divorced parents who share custody still have ample opportunity to influence a child’s development with just a little more effort. However, a parent’s control and authority may be cut off, at least temporarily, in dependency cases, and is lost forever if parental rights are terminated by a court. Reports of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of a child instigate a dependency case, which starts with an investigation by law enforcement and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), and typically develops into a coordinated effort among the parents, DCF, and the family court to fix the unhealthy issues so the child can return home. Unfortunately, not all parents are reunited with their children, and instead, ultimately lose their parental rights over the child.
One type of person that routinely loses all rights as a parent, although few would argue deserve such rights in the first place, are rapists who father a child with a victim. Florida judges are permitted to terminate a man’s parental rights if there is clear and convincing evidence the child was conceived as a result of a rape. Thankfully, such situations are rare, but there are many other parents who face termination of parental rights based on less serious allegations that need to understand when and how such a decision is made.
What Does It Mean to Lose All Parental Rights?
In order to have a reasonable understanding of what it means to lose parental rights, a discussion of the rights all legally-recognized parents have is necessary. Florida does not have a statute that explicitly establishes what a parent’s rights are over his/her child, but looking at child custody cases gives important indications of what is generally considered the rights and obligations associated with raising a child. The most essential right a parent has is physical custody of, or at least the right to regular visitation and communication with, the child. In addition, the ability to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, and access to school and medical records are typically considered a part of being a parent. The enduring obligation all divorced parents are intimately familiar with is the responsibility to financially support a child until the age of eighteen. Thus, if a parent loses their parental rights, entitlement to custody or visitation with the child, and the authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf is gone. However, the duty to support the child is lifted as well.
When Are Parental Rights Terminated?
Florida provides a number of grounds a court can use to justify terminating someone’s parental rights. Some of these include:
- the parent voluntarily surrenders the child, and consents to the child’s adoption by another person;
- the child was abandoned, or the parent’s identity and location is unknown for at least 60 days despite a diligent search;
- a parent engages in behavior that continually threatens the life, safety, and wellbeing of the child;
- the parent is incarcerated and will remain so for the majority of the child’s life as minor, or is classified as a violent career criminal, sexual predator, or first- or second- degree murderer; and
- the child is declared a dependent of the state, continues to be abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parent, and the parent either materially breaches the case plan or fails to substantially comply with it.
Talk to a Florida Family Law Attorney
Facing the possible loss of a child is a terrifying situation for any parent, and requires the representation of an experienced family law attorney to give a parent the best chance at reunification. The Fort Lauderdale Law Office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the devastating impact of dependency actions, and will work to get your child home. Contact the office for a free consultation.