Termination of Parental Rights
The law, in general, favors keeping families united. This is especially true in Florida, where the courts use “time-sharing” arrangements instead of “child custody” when it comes to children spending time with parents who do not live together. Thus, parental rights may only be terminated pursuant to very specific circumstances, such as:
When Parents Have Surrendered the Child
Typically this involves a written surrender and consent to an order giving custody of the child to the department for adoption (and the department is willing to accept custody).
Abandonment is defined by statute, whereby a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance or has failed to establish a substantial and positive relationship with the child (or both). This also applies when the identity or location of the parent(s) is/are unknown.
Threatens Safety & Well-Being of Children
Parental rights can also be terminated if a parent engages in conduct towards their own child or other children that demonstrates that they threaten the life, safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child.
If a parent is incarcerated and will be for a significant portion of the child’s minority years or if the incarcerated parent has been determined by the court to be a violent career criminal, habitual violent felony offender, sexual predator, or has been convicted of an offense such as first or second degree murder, sexual battery, rights may be terminated.
Even if the parent has not been convicted of these other crimes, if the court determines that continuing the parental relationship would be harmful to the child and terminating it would be in the best interest of the child, it can. The court will consider the following factors in determining whether there is harm:
- Age of the child;
- Relationship between child and parent;
- Nature of parent’s current and past provision for child’s needs;
- Parent’s history of criminal behavior; and
- Any other factor the court deems relevant.
Parents Violating Case Plans
If a child has been adjudicated dependent and a case plan is filed with the court, parents need to substantially comply with the case plan for one year after the adjudication of the child as a dependent or the child’s placement into shelter care. If they fail to, this constitutes evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment (unless the lack of compliance was due to financial resources).
Other grounds covered by Florida law that provide a basis for the termination of parental rights include:
- Termination of parental rights re: a sibling of the child;
- History of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or controlled substances which renders them incapable of caring for the child;
- The child has been placed in out-of-home-care three or more times due to the parent(s); and/or
- The court determines that the child was conceived as the result of sexual battery.
Contact Us for Assistance with Child Custody
Whether you are seeking to establish parenting rights in Florida, or are attempting to keep them intact, we can help you through the process. Please contact Sandra Bonfiglio in Fort Lauderdale to schedule a consultation.