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Parental rights come with serious responsibility, from the right to have a say in a child's upbringing, to getting to spend time with and raise your child. If a parent is unable or unwilling to meet those responsibilities, the court can find the parent unfit and revoke their legal parental rights.
Terminating parental rights is a serious legal action and is only granted in the most extreme situations. To help you understand what is involved, our child custody attorneys in Raleigh are breaking down the process.
Legal Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
Often, a petition to terminate parental rights is brought by a parent and step-parent, in which the step-parent would like to adopt the child or by adoptive parents who are unable to receive consent from the birth parents to adopt the child.
However, a petition may also be brought for legal purposes outside adoption. The North Carolina General Statute outlines the grounds that would lead the court to terminate parental rights in Chapter 7B-1111. These include, but aren't limited to:
- Abuse or neglect (either past adjudications or current allegations)
- Leaving a child in foster care for longer than 12 months (unless issues related to poverty are the only reason the child is in foster care)
- Failure to pay child support for at least one year to the custodial parent
- Failure to pay for child support for six continuous months while the child is in state custody or a foster home (only if the parent is physically and financially able to provide support)
- Inability to provide care and supervision where the child is considered a "dependent juvenile," often due to mental illness, intellectual disability, or drug or alcohol abuse
- Abandonment of the child for at least six months (or an infant for 60 days)
- Committing a violent felony, including murder or assault resulting in injury or death to a child residing in the home or the other parent
Terminating Parental Rights When The Child Is Born Out of Wedlock
In addition to the matters listed above, the court can also terminate a father's parental rights if he has not established paternity in any way, including:
- Filed an affidavit of paternity
- Legitimate the child by petition or marriage
- Fails to provide financial support and care to the child or the child's mother
Terminating Parental Rights When the Parent is Unknown
In the event a parent is not known, the court will hold a hearing in an attempt to determine who the unknown parent is, and before parental rights of an unknown parent can be terminated, the court may even appoint a person to search for the parent. A public notice will also be published, but if no one responds and a search doesn't turn up answers, the court will terminate the unknown parent's right.
The Process of Terminating Parental Rights
A petition to terminate parental rights can only be brought in front of the court by specific individuals:
- A parent seeking to terminate the parental rights of the other parent
- A legally-appointed guardian
- The guardian with whom the child has lived for two consecutive, continuous years prior to filing
- A government agency, such as the Department of Social Services
When seeking to terminate parental rights, the petition must include detailed facts that align with the guidelines of the North Carolina General Statute. Once filed with the court, a summons will go out to the parents, court-appointed guardian, Department of Social Services or adoption agency, and the child.
Within the summons, there's a notice stating that an answer to the petition must be filed within 30 days, and without a response, the court may order all parental and custodial rights forfeit. If the parent does respond, a hearing will be scheduled with a judge, and both parents (or parent and guardian, depending on who is bringing the petition forth), have the right to representation by a family lawyer.
While the hearing is formal, there is no jury. The petitioner brings forth clear and convincing evidence to support grounds for terminating a parent's rights, while the other parent does have the right to defend their actions. The judge will consider any relevant information and rule based on the proof brought forth and what is in the child's best interests.
Can a Parent Terminate Their Own Parental Rights
When a parent no longer wishes to pay child support or wants to revoke parental responsibilities, they may ask if they can give up their parental claim. In North Carolina, a parent can not terminate their parental rights.
Also, in the event parental rights are terminated, it does not necessarily end the obligation of child support, unless someone else is adopting the child. For example, if your rights were terminated because you were found to be neglectful, and you owe back payments or have a legal child support agreement, you can still be held accountable to pay it.
In North Carolina, termination of parental rights, like the right to visitation and to have a say in the child's upbringing, is mutually exclusive from parental responsibilities, such as providing support.
Schedule a Consultation with a Family Attorney in Raleigh
If you would like to explore terminating another parent's rights or you are facing a summons about having your rights terminated, we can help. The laws can be complicated and confusing, and trying to navigate the process alone can be overwhelming and challenging. To learn more, reach out to us today at (919) 301-8843 or fill out the contact form below.