It is no secret that one of the most important relationships in existence is that between a parent and a child. While courts recognize a parent’s right to raise a child however he or she sees fit, there are times when it is necessary to terminate the rights a parent has over a child. While this is unfortunate, there are certain situations in which such action may be in the best interests of the child. Terminating a parent’s parental rights over a child carries large implications and can have a huge effect on an individual’s involvement in a case.
What Are Parental Rights
As can be expected, parental rights are the rights a parent has over a child. What these rights entail, however, can be quite extensive. Parental rights can include the right to not only spend time with a child, but also to make decisions that affect the welfare of the child. Examples of decisions that affect the welfare of the child include, but are not limited to:
- Medical treatment
- Where the child will attend school
- Developing a parent-child relationship, and
- Who the child sees.
Typically, one gains parental rights over a child by being the biological parent. While it is easier to determine who the natural mother is, there are circumstances in which a non-biological father would have parental rights over the minor child. For example, courts will presume that the people listed on the child’s birth certificate are the natural parents of the child, even if the parents know full well that one parent is not the biological parent of that child. The other commonly known way to obtain parental rights over a child is to adopt the child. That being said, one of the interesting things about parental rights is that they are not dependent on marriage. It is possible for two people to have parental rights over a child without having been married before, just as it is possible for two people to be married with only one having parental rights over the child.
Terminating Parental Rights in Florida
As with any other legal matter concerning the family, the termination of parental rights can be a stressful and complicated process. While terminating parental rights can be a trying process, there are several situations under Florida law in which the court will terminate an individual’s parental rights. Under Florida Statute 39.806, these situations cover a breadth of activities, which includes:
- Voluntary surrender,
- Abuse of the child, or of other children,
- Incarceration of the parent,
- Murder, or
- Detection of controlled substances within the child at birth.
In most of these cases, the standard of proof is quite high, with a majority requiring clear and convincing evidence that the action or activity occurred in order to terminate parental rights. In addition, courts are not likely to simply grant a petition to terminate parental rights absent specific circumstances. That being said, while it can be difficult to terminate a parent’s parental rights, it is not impossible.
How to Terminate Parental Rights
Just as with any other process within the court, there are specific steps an individual must take in order to terminate the parental rights of another person over a minor child. The first thing that must be done is to determine the reason for the termination of parental rights. As stated above, there can be a multitude of reasons, each requiring its own evidence in order to support the petition. Once a review of the relevant case materials has taken place, you will then need to file a petition with the court. This petition can be filed by any number of persons, which can include a parent, a guardian ad litem, or anyone who has knowledge of the facts and believes that they are true.
Florida law provides information on what a petition must contain. Under the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, a petition to terminate parental rights must include the identity and residence of the parents, if known, as well as the name, age, and sex of any children involved. In addition, the petition must contain facts supporting the legal reason for terminating the parental rights, and, in certain circumstances, must include proof that the parents were offered a case plan and that they did not substantially adhere to it. The petition must also contain an allegation that the parents of the child will be informed of the availability of private placement of the child with an adoption agency. Finally, the petition must contain a certified copy of a birth certificate for each child named. If the petitioner is unable to locate the birth certificate after diligent search and inquiry, then the petitioner will need to state the date and place of birth of each child.
Once the court receives the petition, and all parties have been provided notice, the court will then hold a hearing on the petition. During this hearing, parties will be allowed to present evidence to support or challenge the termination of parental rights. Once the court has heard all evidence in the case, it will then decide whether to terminate parental rights or to deny the petition. Courts, and the Florida legislature, understand that the termination of parental rights is an extremely serious thing that should not be considered lightly. As such, courts will generally require more evidence to show that an individual’s parental rights should be terminated.