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My Ex Abandoned Our Child. How Do I Terminate Their Rights?

Child drawing

Many parents, unfortunately, aren’t “parental material.” Some have drug problems. Some just haven’t grown up. Some have anger management issues.

For many reasons, parents believe that their child should not be around the other parent. Ever. No chance. They want finality, to be able to move on with their lives, or for the other parent to stop showing up, making demands, and then disappearing again.

These are the people who call Held Law Firm with the same question: How do I terminate their parental rights?

The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. The Parental Rights Termination statute is at T.C.A. 36-1-113.  It says that to terminate a parent’s rights, you must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) “grounds” to terminate exist, and (2) that it’s in the best interest of the child for those rights to be terminated.

Grounds include:

1.  Abandonment. 

This means that the parent has either (a) not exercised time they have a court-ordered right to have with the child or (b) haven’t paid court-ordered child support.

Beware: “token” visits don’t mean that they haven’t abandoned a child. But they also aren’t required to use every visit they can. Missing a few does not equal abandonment.

Same thing with child support: if they make only “token” payments, you may be able to prove abandonment, especially if they have the financial ability to pay. On the other hand, just because they miss a single payment doesn’t mean you can prove abandonment.

The courts generally look back to the last four-month period to decide whether abandonment has occurred. Use common sense: the less they’ve been present, the stronger your case.

2. Failure to follow a permanency plan. 

This is for people who have had DCS take their custody rights away.

3. Child removal.

The child was removed for over six months due to (a) something wrong in the home that hasn’t been fixed, such as a drug problem, or domestic abuser, for example; (b) continuation of the parent relationship will mean the child can’t be integrated into a safe and stable home.

4. A finding by a court of severe child abuse as defined by 37-1-102.

5. Criminal activity.

This includes:

  • A parent who has been sentenced to more than two years in prison for conduct against the child or any of their siblings, or any other child living in the home.
  • A parent who has been sentenced for any criminal act for a period in excess of ten years – this provision doesn’t have to be a criminal act against the child.
  • A parent who has been found guilty of killing the other parent, either on purpose or by accident.

Once you show grounds, you then have to show that the termination is in the child’s best interest. This can be a tricky process.  Courts want to believe that parents can redeem themselves. Additionally, courts want to make sure they have as many people on the hook as possible to pay for this child’s upbringing.

Courts are far more likely to terminate if the child has another adult in their life willing to step up and take responsibility for raising the child. That’s why terminations are most often part of an adoption proceeding. It is rare, absent extreme circumstances, for someone to be successful in getting parental rights terminated in the absence of that person stepping up.

These can be messy cases, and your best bet is to have an organized, detail-oriented attorney, ready with the facts to support your case.  If you’d like to learn more, give us a call.

If you’d like to schedule a case assessment with Margaret Held or another Held Law Firm attorney, call (865) 685-4780.