Termination of Parental Rights and Right to Counsel

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Jan 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

The termination of parental rights is critical important in the adoption process, step-parent adoptions, or when a child is being taken into the foster care system. Whether you are looking to abandon your parental rights or you want the parent of you child to abandon their legal parenting rights, it is important to understand the implications and consequences of parental rights termination. Our child custody attorneys in Birmingham are dedicated to helping our clients protect their rights in termination of rights and custody matters.

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In a recent case (In re TM), the Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for a temporary custody arrangement. During the hearing, which combined the permanency hearing and termination of parental rights hearing, the mother of the child was not represented in court. A lawyer was not appointed for the mother in the original hearing, but the family court later vacated the rights of the mother. While the Immediate Court of Appeals held that the family court did not abuse its discretion when failing to appoint counsel, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Intermediate Court of Appeals vacated the judgment finding that parents have a constitutional right to counsel in parental termination proceedings. For indigent parents, the case means that courts must appoint counsel in termination of rights parents when asserting foster custody over a child.

Terminating parental rights can be voluntary or court ordered. A custodial parent may want the other to give up their parental rights if they are no longer involved with the child or paying child support. Termination of parental rights is also necessary if one parent remarries and wants a step-parent to adopt the child and take on parental rights and obligations. In other instances, the court may order the termination of parental rights. The previous case illustrates that when a court is involved with the termination of rights, that parent has a constitutional right to an attorney.

There are a number of grounds that justify the involuntary termination of parental rights; however the bar is set high for the state to be successful. The state must show by clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit and that severing the parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the child. Statutory grounds for termination vary by state, but a parent may lose parental rights if they cannot provide for basic needs or of they are causing harm to a child. Statutory grounds for termination of parent rights include physical or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, long-term mental illness of the parent, long-term drug or alcohol abuse or dependency, or failure to maintain contact or provide support to a child.

In cases involving the involuntary termination of rights, parents have the constitutional right to an attorney. This ensures that their position is fairly represented to the state if it is Child Protective Services is seeking to terminate parental rights. Custodial parents who are seeking to terminate the parental rights of a parent who has abandoned the child or hasn't paid support will also benefit from experienced advocacy throughout the process. Any parent who is considering terminating their rights should also consult with an attorney to have a clear understanding of their changing rights and future obligations.

 Contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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