Parental Rights Termination in Florida: An Overview

Parents are given very specific rights under the constitution that are no easily removed. However, with these rights comes tremendous responsibilities. If a parent is unable to adhere to his/her responsibilities to an extent in which he/she endangers the child, a parent’s rights may be terminated by the court.

How Parental Rights Are Terminated

To begin the Termination of Parental rights proceeding, a Petition must be filed. A Petition may be filed by the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian Ad Litem Program, or a private person who wishes to adopt the child. In addition to properly alleging a statutory ground under Florida laws for termination, the Petition must allege that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child and (if termination of parental rights is not voluntary), that termination of parental rights is the least restrictive means. This means that is not sufficient to simply meet one of the grounds stated in Florida laws. If there is a manner to avoid termination of parental rights and there is a least restrictive way to protect the child from danger, the court must not grant the Petition.

What Are The Grounds For Termination?

There are two types of termination of parental rights proceedings: voluntary and involuntary. A voluntary termination of parental rights is when a parent “surrenders” or “consents” to their rights be removed for purposes of having their children placed for adoption. The court will hear testimony from you to ensure you understand the consequences of surrendering your rights and will determine if the surrender is in the best interest of the child.

To involuntarily terminate parental rights, one or more of the following must be established:

  • Child abandonment. Under Florida law, a parent abandons a child if the parent, while being able, made no significant financial contribution to the child’s care and/or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child. Additionally, a parent who has been missing or whose identity is unknown for more than 60 days from the child’s life constitutes abandonment and may have their rights terminated.
  • The parent’s conduct toward the child or toward other children demonstrates that he/she threatens the life, safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child irrespective of services provided to the parents. Here, a parent was given the opportunity to rehabilitate; however, despite the effort to rehabilitate, the parents remains a danger to the child.
  • The parent will be incarcerated for a large portion of a child’s minor life or if the parent is a violent career criminal, a habitual violent felony offender, a sexual predator, convicted of first degree murder, second degree murder, or a sexual battery that results in a capital, life, or first degree felony violation.
  • The child continues to be abused, abandonment, or neglected by the parent even after completing a case plan with the Department of Children and Families.
  • Egregious conduct towards the child or the child’s siblings was either committed or was not prevented by the parent. Egregious conduct means conduct that the is deplorable, flagrant, or outrageous by a normal standard of conduct. It may be an act or omission.
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  • The parent committed the murder, manslaughter, or somehow involved in the murder of the other parent or another child.
  • The child or another child has be subjected to aggravated child abuse, sexual battery/abuse, or chronic abuse by the parent.
  • Cases of other children having previously been removed from the home can set a precedent for the remaining parental rights to be revoked.
  • The parent has a history of extensive and chronic drug or alcohol use.

The list above is not exhaustive and may change yearly.

What is the Burden of Proof?

Because we are dealing with a Constitutional Right, the Petitioner in a Termination of Parental Rights proceedings has a heightened burden of proof. They must prove all elements in the Petition by “clear and convincing evidence”. As such, it is not easy to terminate parental rights. However, it is not an impossible feat. Termination of Parental Rights proceedings are closed proceedings, meaning no one from the public can gain access to the information, and they are determined by a judge, not a jury.

Are your parental rights in danger of being terminated, or do you know a child in a situation that needs legal attention? Contact Annette Sanchez Law with your questions and concerns for experienced legal counsel on family law and civil litigation matters.

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