Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of Parental Rights

A child at the top of a ladder, reaching toward the sky

Termination of parental rights means that all the rights and responsibilities in the legal parent-child relationship are cut off.  A parent whose rights have been terminated no longer has a right to control any part of the child’s life.  For example, once terminated, the parent can no longer decide where the child will live or who will care for the child.  The parent’s duty to support the child also ends with termination of parental rights.

In some cases OCS may ask the court to terminate parental rights.  This is the last resort after OCS has taken temporary protective custody of a child and has tried everything to improve the parent-child relationship, or to remedy problems that put the child in danger.  A court may order parents’ rights terminated if, after a termination trial, the court finds it is in the child’s best interests.

In general, the court must terminate the parents’ rights before a child can be adopted or when necessary to protect the child.  State laws set out the reasons for termination of parental rights, including:

  • The parent has abandoned the child;
  • The parent has not changed, or made any effort to change, the unsafe conduct, conditions or other situation in the home that caused the removal of the child, within certain time limits.

In some cases, OCS does not have to keep trying to reunite the family because of very dangerous or violent behavior in the family, including parents who cause serious injuries or death to other family members, who have severe mental illnesses, or who will be imprisoned for a large part of the child’s youth.

OCS can file a petition with the court asking to terminate parental rights if OCS believes that it would be harmful for the child to return to the parents, and in the best interests of the child to terminate parental rights.  Then the court will have a trial at which OCS has to prove that:

  • the child is a child in need of aid;
  • the parent has not fixed(within a reasonable time) the situation in the home that placed the child at substantial risk of harm;
  • OCS made reasonable efforts (or active efforts if the child is an Indian child) to provide services and programs to get the family back together, but those efforts were unsuccessful; and
  • the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best

If the child is an American Indian or Alaska Native child, OCS also has to prove that if the child was returned to the parent, the child is likely to suffer serious emotional or physical damage.

If the court decides that OCS has proved its case, the court will terminate parental rights and give custody of the child and the responsibility of making permanent plans for the child to the state.