Before a child can be adopted, the biological parent(s) must have their rights terminated. The most common (and easiest) way to terminate those rights is to prove that the biological parent(s) have “abandoned” the child. A parent is guilty of legal abandonment if, for a period of four consecutive months, they either fail to visit or fail to financially support their child.
Abandonment is defined by T.C.A. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) as follows:
For a period of four (4) consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of a proceeding or pleading to terminate the parental rights of the parent or parents or the guardian or guardians of the child who is the subject of the petition for termination of parental rights or adoption, that the parent or parents or the guardian or guardians either have willfully failed to visit or have willfully failed to support or have willfully failed to make reasonable payments toward the support of the child. (emphasis added)
To constitute “abandonment,” the parent must “willfully” fail to visit for the relevant four-month period. You can show willfulness by demonstrating that the parent was aware of a duty to visit or support the child, had the ability to visit or support, and didn’t have any good excuse for that failure. The question is fact-intensive, so your lawyer needs to prepare this aspect of the case thoroughly.
The biological parent must show they at least made the effort. Generally, they can’t blame other people for failing to visit or support. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. For instance, if someone who had custody of the child argued that the child was not the biological parents’ child, or refused to tell them where they are so they can visit, then failing to visit might be excused. On the other hand, someone being simply unfriendly to the biological parent is not a good enough excuse. Neither is travel distance, expense, or what a biological parent believes an unfair court-ordered restriction on the conditions of visitation.
If you have any questions, call our Knoxville law office to set up a consult with one of our attorneys.
Margaret Held is the Founding Attorney of Held Law Firm.