There are several situations in which a parent or caregiver may wish to terminate the legal parental rights between a parent and child. This proceeding is called a private termination of parental rights (“TPR”) and may be initiated by a parent, guardian, caregiver of at least two years, or someone who has filed a petition to adopt. The person who files the proceeding is called the “petitioner” and the parent whose rights are sought to be terminated is called the “respondent.” The most common grounds for a private TPR include the respondent’s abuse or neglect, failure to provide financial support or consistent care, failure to legitimate a child, inability to provide for proper care and supervision of child and willful abandonment, although there are some other grounds.
After a petition for a TPR is filed, the court is supposed to hear the matter within 90 days. A special summons is used to serve the petition on the respondent. If the respondent is indigent, the court will appoint the respondent counsel. Also, if the respondent is incompetent or a minor, a Guardian Ad Litem should be appointed to him or her. A Guardian Ad Litem is likewise appointed to the child if the respondent denies any material allegation in the petition (unless the child already has a Guardian Ad Litem).
A TPR hearing is actually two hearings, often held back to back: (1) the adjudicatory hearing in which the court determines whether the grounds for termination are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence; and (2) the disposition hearing in which the court determines whether terminating the rights of the parent is in the best interests of the child. In determining the best interests of the child the court looks at the child’s age, the likelihood of adoption, the bond between the child and the parent, the quality of the relationship between the child and any proposed adoptive parent or other permanent caregiver and any other relevant consideration. The court also takes into consideration the testimony of the Guardian Ad Litem.
Courts are usually cautious in terminating parental rights because severing them extinguishes all of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. This means that the respondent no longer has custody or visitation rights, and has no say in decisions made in the child’s life. A TPR also ends the respondent’s financial obligation to support the child.
North Carolina’s statute that governs TPR proceedings may be found at http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/ByArticle/Chapter_7B/Article_11.html. If you are considering a private TPR, or if one has been filed against you, it is best to consult with a qualified family law attorney.
Susan L. Evans is a civil law litigator practicing state and federal law in Asheville, North Carolina, and surrounding areas. She has experience in employment, civil rights, business, contract, tort, consumer, real estate, construction and family law litigation. Her practice also includes appellate work. For more information, visit http://www.evanslaw-asheville.com/.