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Termination of Parental Rights in Florida

With a few exceptions, virtually every biological parent automatically has legal rights regarding his or her child. These “rights” include things like:

  • Having the ability to spend time with the child
  • Making decisions on the child’s behalf
  • Determining who has access to the child

Being a parent also comes with legal obligations related to your child as well. These responsibilities include things like ensuring the child has food, shelter, and healthcare. It requires financial support as well.

Termination of parental rights cuts off both these rights and obligations related to the child. There are a variety of potential reasons that terminating parental rights may be appropriate.

Reasons to Terminate Parental Rights

Parents may want to terminate their own parental rights or cut off rights to the other parents. Parents can voluntarily terminate their parental rights. This voluntarily termination usually occurs in the context of an adoption or stepparent adoption. A child is only permitted to have two parents with legal rights, which means that one parent needs to give up his or her rights so that a stepparent or other individual can have rights to the child.

Termination of parental rights may also occur when:

  1. The parent has abandoned the child. Abandonment may be a broader term than you realize. While there are circumstances where a parent literally leaves the child in another location, it is more likely that the parent has simply not tried to establish any type of relationship with his or her child. In addition, any parent who cannot be located for at least 60 days can have his or her parental rights terminated.

  2. The parent threatens the child’s well-being. If a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health is threatened, the court can terminate a parent’s legal rights to a child. The threat must be severe enough, and continuing, to warrant termination.

  3. A parent is in jail or prison. Parents who are incarcerated may have their legal rights terminated. It is more likely to occur when the parent is imprisoned for a significant amount of time. The offense causing the jail time will also affect whether termination of parental rights is appropriate.

  4. There have been other egregious conduct. When the parent acts in a way that endangers the child, the court is much more likely to terminate parental rights. The behavior does not necessarily have to be directed toward the child; it can be directed toward another family member or a sibling.

Terminating Parental Rights Process

You must file a petition to get the process of terminating parental rights started in Florida. Someone who has physical custody of a child, a guardian ad litem, or another family member can often begin this process. The petition should describe why you think the termination of rights is appropriate.

The court will then schedule a hearing on the petition for termination of parental rights. The hearing will allow the parties to present evidence and testimony regarding the allegations outlined in the petition. The court will then determine what will be in the best interests of the child given the facts presented at the hearing.

If you are considering starting the process to terminate a parent’s parental rights, or if a petition has been filed against you, contact us to discuss your legal options.

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