The relationship between a parent and a child is a special one in the United States, where many laws or services exist in order to protect and assist a parent-child relationship. As most people are aware, however, there are times when it may be necessary for a parent and child to be separated. While there may be situations in which a parent may have reduced visitation time, such as by court order after a divorce, parents in these situations may still have rights to raise the child, spend time with the child, and, in some cases, prevent the other parent from doing certain things such as relocating out of state. When a parent’s parental rights are terminated, however, that parent becomes, under the eyes of the law, the same as any other non-parent.
Terminating a parent’s rights over a minor child is a serious and drastic step that is not taken lightly. Fortunately, Florida Statute 39.806 provides insight on when and how parental rights may be terminated. Under this statute, there are fourteen different circumstances in which an individual’s parental rights may be terminated.
Under statute 39.806, a parent may terminate his or her own parental rights over a minor child by voluntarily surrendering them. In order to do this, the parent must first voluntarily execute a written surrender of the child and must consent to the entry of an order giving custody of the minor child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). A voluntary surrender may be withdrawn after being accepted by the DCF only after a court has found that the surrender and consent were obtained by fraud or duress.
Another way courts may terminate an individual’s parental rights is by finding that the child has been abandoned by the parent(s). In order to find abandonment, a court must either find that a child has been abandoned, as defined in Florida Statute 39.01(1), or the location of the parent(s) cannot be discovered by diligent search within 60 days.
In addition, a parent may have his or her parental rights over a minor child terminated if it is found that the parent engaged in conduct towards the child, or other children, demonstrating that a continued relationship between the parent and child would threaten the safety and well-being of the minor child.
In certain circumstances, a parent may have his or her parental rights terminated when they become incarcerated. This, however, only applies under three specific situations. The first situation in which incarceration may lead to a loss of parental rights is when the parent’s incarceration time is expected to constitute a significant portion of the child’s minority. The next situation is when the parent is deemed by the court to be either a violent career criminal, a habitual violent offender, a sexual predator, or has been convicted of a violent crime such as murder or battery. Finally, a court may terminate a parent’s parental rights if it finds clear and convincing evidence that a continued relationship with the incarcerated parent would be harmful to the minor child.
Case Plan Violations
In cases where a case plan has been filed with the court, a parent’s parental rights may be terminated in one of three circumstances. First, a court may terminate a parent’s rights if the child continues to be abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parent. The next situation that allows for termination occurs when a parent has materially breached the case plan. Finally a court may terminate parental rights if the child has spent 12 out of the past 22 months in the care of the DCF.
A court may terminate parental rights if it finds that the parent has engaged in “egregious conduct,” which can consist of acts or omissions leading to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or any other conduct that is flagrant or outrageous by a normal standard of conduct.
A court may terminate a parent’s parental rights if it is found that the parent has subjected the minor child or another child to aggravated abuse or sexual abuse.
In cases where a parent has committed murder, manslaughter, or aiding and abetting, conspiring, or soliciting the murder of the other parent or another child, or when there is a felony battery that results in serious injury to the child or another child, a court may terminate the offending parent’s parental rights over the minor child.
Interestingly enough, Florida law also provides that if the parental rights of the parent to a sibling of the minor child in question have been terminated, then the court may also terminate the parent’s parental rights over the minor child.
History of Substance Abuse
Not only can a parent’s actions against another child be used to terminate parental rights, but also, if the parent or parents have a history of extensive and chronic substance abuse that would prevent them from caring for the child, a court may terminate parental rights, but only if the parent or parents have refused to complete available treatment for at least three years prior to termination.
Tests at Birth
Parental rights may also be terminated if at-birth tests reveal the presence of alcohol or other controlled substances in the child’s blood, urine, or meconium, as long as the presence of such substances was not the result of medical treatment.
A parent may lose parental rights if the child or another child of the parent has been placed in out-of-home care at least three times, as long as the reason for the out-of-home care placement was because of the parent.
The next situation that would lead to the termination of parental rights is if the child was conceived as a result of sexual battery in any territory or state. In addition, it is presumed that the termination of parental rights in this situation is in the best interests of the child.
Finally, a parent may have his or her parental rights terminated if he is forced to register as a sexual predator.