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Terminating Parental Rights in Tennessee

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The first stage in any adoption proceeding is terminating parental rights of the biological parents. Unless you are pursuing a stepparent adoption, you must terminate both biological parents’ rights. A court will only terminate a parent’s rights if the petitioner can prove at least one of the legal grounds to terminate. The petitioner must also prove termination would be in the best interests of the child. Both of these things must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which is a high standard of proof.


Prospective adoptive parents, including extended family members caring for a related child, any licensed child-placing agency that has physical custody of the child, the child’s guardian ad litem, or the Department of Children’s Services have standing to file a petition with the court to terminate the rights of a child’s biological parents.


The state of Tennessee has identified 15 possible grounds for terminating a biological parent’s parental rights:

  1. This can be proved by showing the parent’s failure to visit the child or to provide support.
  2. Substantial noncompliance by the parent with a DCS permanency plan.
  3. A child has been removed from the parent’s home by court order for at least six months following the filing of a juvenile court petition alleging that the parent’s child is dependent and neglected; AND the conditions that led to the child’s removal still persist, preventing the safe return of the child to the parent’s home; AND there is litter likelihood that those conditions will be remedied anytime soon; and the continuation of the parent-child relationship greatly diminishes the child’s chances of early integration into a safe, stable, and permanent home.
  4. The parent is or has been found by the court to have committed severe child abuse against any child.
  5. The parent has been sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment for conduct against the child, the child’s sibling, or another child living in the parent’s home.
  6. The parent has committed a crime for which he or she has been sentenced to ten or more years in jail, and the child is under eight years old when the parent was sentenced.
  7. The parent has been found criminally or civilly liable for the death of the child’s other parent.
  8. The parent is mentally incompetent to adequately provide for the further care and supervision of the child.
  9. The parent is a putative father who has failed to support, seek reasonable visitation with, or manifest an ability and willingness to take custody of, his child.
  10. The parent has been convicted of rape from which the child was conceived.
  11. The parent has been found to have committed severe child sexual abuse.
  12. The parent has been convicted of trafficking for commercial sex.
  13. The parent has been convicted on or after July 1, 2015 of sex trafficking of children.
  14. A parent has failed to manifest, by act or omission, an ability and willingness to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of the child, and placing the child in the parent’s legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child.
  15. The parent has been convicted of attempted first or second degree murder of the child’s other parent.

Once at least one of the above grounds have been established by clear and convincing evidence, a petitioner still has to convince the court that terminating the rights of the biological parent is in the best interests of the child. There are a number of factors for a court to consider when determining best interests. These include the relationship between the child and their biological parent, whether the child has significant ties to their extended family and community that would be broken by termination, and whether the parent is able to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care. If the child is twelve years old or older, the court might also take their opinion into account


Terminating parental rights is often the most difficult part of an adoption case. Once both biological parents’ rights have been terminated, the prospective adoptive family must show the court that they have met the requirements to adopt and that placing the child with the adoptive family is in the best interests of the child. This is the adoptive parents’ chance to demonstrate their ability to provide a loving, stable, and supportive home for the child. If the court finds that all of the requirements have been met and that the child’s interests would be best served by the proposed adoption, the court will sign an order finalizing the adoption.