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What Does It Mean To Terminate Your Parental Rights?
When an individual becomes a parent, the birth of their child automatically triggers certain rights and responsibilities under state law. Known collectively as parental rights, the parents have rights such as the right to be a part of their child’s life and make important decisions about their care.
As a parent, this also means having certain responsibilities. This can include keeping the child fed, clothed, safe, healthy, and protected from harm. Even if you get divorced, you still have certain rights and financial obligations to your children.
In Florida, there are two ways to terminate your parental rights: either voluntarily or involuntarily.
Voluntarily Terminating Parental Rights in Florida
Generally, Florida courts are hesitant to allow a parent to voluntarily terminate their parental rights except for in situations where there is another adult ready to adopt the child. Without a potential adoptive parent, it is unlikely that an individual will be able to terminate their parental rights voluntarily.
For instance, parental rights won’t be terminated by the court just so the parent can avoid the responsibility of having a child or to circumvent their obligation to pay child support.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Florida
It is unlikely that the state will allow a parent to surrender their parental rights voluntarily. However, there are instances when the court will do so on the child’s behalf.
There’s a Voluntary Written Surrender. A court can terminate rights if a voluntary written surrender is executed. The surrender must give the child to the department for adoption. The department must be willing to accept custody of the child.
The Child’s Life is Endangered. Rights can be terminated if the parent or parents engaged in conduct towards their own child or another child that shows that their continuing involvement in the child’s life threatens the child’s life, safety, and well-being, or the physical, mental or emotional health of the child.
A Parent is Incarcerated: Courts can step in if one parent is incarcerated and:
The parent will be incarcerated for a significant period before the child turns 18-years-old;
The parent has been determined by the court to be a violent career criminal, a habitual felony offender, a sexual predator, convicted of first or second-degree murder or a sexual battery that constitutes a capital, life, or felony, or convicted of a similar crime in another jurisdiction; OR
The court determines that continuing the parental relationship with the incarcerated parent would be harmful to the child.
There’s Evidence of Neglect: Rights can be terminated if a court has found the child to be dependent and a case plan has been filed, but the child continues to be abused, neglected, or abandoned.
The Child is Subjected to Sexual Abuse. A court can strip parental rights if the parent or parents have subjected the child or another child to aggravated child abuse, sexual battery or sexual abuse, or chronic abuse.
The Parent Has Harmed Another Child. If one the parents has either committed the murder, manslaughter, aiding or abetting the murder, or conspiracy or solicitation to murder the other parent or another child, or committed a felony battery that resulted in serious bodily injury to their child or to another child, a court can terminate parental rights.
The Parents Have Given Up Rights to a Sibling. If a parent’s rights to a sibling have been revoked involuntarily, it can also revoke rights pertaining to other children.
The Parents Abuse Drugs or Alcohol. A judge may terminate parental rights if one or both parents have a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance. This dependence must render them incapable of caring for the child. The parent must have failed to complete treatment for their addiction during the 3-year period immediately before the filing of the petition for termination of parental rights.
The Child Tested Positive For Drugs or Alcohol at Birth. A parent’s right can be terminated if a child tested positive at birth for alcohol or a controlled substance. However, the biological mother must have had at least one other child found by the court to be dependent after suffering harm to their health or welfare by exposure to alcohol or a controlled substance. The mother must have had the opportunity to participate in substance abuse treatment.
The Child Has Been Repeatedly Placed in Out of Home Care. A parent may lose parental rights if, on at least three or more occasions, one or both parents caused conditions that resulted in the child or another child being placed in out-of-home care.
The Child Is a Result of Sexual Battery or Rape. A parent’s rights may be stripped if a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived as a result of an act of sexual battery.
The Child’s Parent is a Recognized Sexual Predator. A court may terminate a parent’s right if that parent is convicted of an offense that requires the parent to register as a sexual predator.
Even if these circumstances do exist, the court has discretion in deciding if a parent’s rights should be terminated.
A Lawyer Can Help You Understand Your Rights and Options
Maybe you’re a parent who would like to willingly give up your parental rights. Or, perhaps your rights are being threatened by the court system. Whatever the case, it’s important to understand the process and realize what’s at stake. An experienced Orlando family law attorney can help you navigate the process and protect your rights.