Terminating parental rights in Florida is a complicated legal process. Whether you want to place a child with an adoptive family and voluntarily terminate your parental rights or whether you want to protect your rights as a parent, you will benefit from having an experienced family law attorney working with you. The lawyers at The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, PA, can help with your questions about parental rights and work in the best of you and your children.
Being a parent comes with significant responsibilities. Parents are responsible for overseeing the welfare of children until they are adults who can care for themselves. In some cases, parents need assistance caring for children, or they may feel that their children would be best served in the custody of someone else.
The lawyers at The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, PA, have decades of experience working in Florida family courts. Whether you are a struggling parent hoping to keep your family together or need help understanding how to terminate someone’s parental rights in Florida, our attorneys can help.
What Are Parental Rights?
Florida recognizes that the parent-child relationship is one of the most fundamental aspects of family life. Under state law, parents generally have the right to spend time with their children and decide who else has access to them. Parents have the authority to make decisions regarding medical care, education, and religious upbringing, among other things.
Parents also have responsibilities to provide for the welfare of the child. Florida expects parents to ensure children receive food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and appropriate education. If parents demonstrate that they cannot provide for a child or if there is evidence that they are harming the child, the state can terminate their parental rights.
In some cases, parents may voluntarily terminate their parental rights. This most often occurs when parents agree to place a child for adoption.
What Are the Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Florida?
Florida recognizes that keeping families intact is usually in children’s best interest. However, in some situations, the child’s best interests are served by terminating parental rights and moving forward with a formal care plan for the child’s future. Circumstances like abuse, neglect, abandonment, or parental incarceration can give rise to the need to terminate parental rights. Even in these cases, there is a process that the state must follow before permanently separating children from their parents.
In some cases, the termination of parental rights in Florida happens only after the state has tried to work with parents to improve conditions for the child and keep the family together. Courts may rule that a child is dependent, meaning the child’s welfare depends on the state overseeing the parent to ensure they can care for the child.
In these cases, the state will create a care plan for the parent to follow after a dependency ruling. The state will also provide resources to help the parent follow the care plan. If the parent cannot fulfill the terms of the care plan, the state may move to terminate the parent’s rights.
Other legal reasons for terminating parental rights under Florida law are as follows:
- Voluntary surrender: This typically occurs when a child is placed for adoption. The parent voluntarily executes a written surrender of the child and consents to an order giving custody of the child to the Department of Children and Families for subsequent adoption.
- Abandonment: This occurs when the parent’s whereabouts are unknown, and they have been absent for 60 days or more without paying child support or initiating contact with the child.
- Endangerment: This occurs when there is evidence that the parent has behaved in a way that endangers the child’s life, safety, well-being, or the physical, emotional, and mental health of the child.
- Sexual misconduct: Evidence that a parent has sexually abused their own or another child is grounds for terminating parental rights. In addition, an adult who is a registered sex offender can have their parental rights revoked. If a child was conceived through sexual assault, the assailant might have their parental rights terminated.
- Substance abuse: Not all cases of substance abuse are grounds for terminating parental rights. There must be evidence that the parent has a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or controlled substances and failed to complete treatment in the prior three years. The substance abuse must be severe enough to prevent that parent from safely caring for a child. Parents who abuse substances during pregnancy may lose parental rights if they give birth to more than one child with substance dependency.
- Incarceration: If a parent has been sentenced to a term that will include most of a child’s minor years or if the court finds that a relationship with an incarcerated parent will harm a child, the incarcerated person can lose parental rights. In addition, convictions for certain violent crimes, such as sex offenses and murder, are grounds for terminating parental rights.
How to Terminate Parental Rights In Florida
It is not easy to terminate parental rights in Florida. The state will work to keep parents and children together whenever possible. The state designed processes and allocated staff to assist struggling parents with improving their personal circumstances and retaining their parental rights.
The first step is filing a petition to terminate parental rights. Most often, this is done by a court-appointed guardian ad litem for the child or the person stepping up to take emergency custody of the child. The petition has to show legal cause for terminating parental rights.
Once a petition to terminate parental rights has been filed, there will be a hearing. A family court judge will hear evidence and testimony about the allegations in the petition. The parent has a right to contest the petition in the hearing and try to retain their parental rights.
The court will make a decision based on the evidence presented. As with all matters involving the custody of children, the court is obliged to act in the best interests of the child. Most terminations of parental rights are permanent.
How to Voluntarily Terminate Parental Rights in Florida
Terminating parental rights to avoid responsibility for a child is usually not permissible. Instead, voluntary termination of parental rights is typically part of the adoption process. This can be done when an adoption agreement is reached, and the biological parents consent. It may also be done when one parent plans to marry another individual who wishes to raise their partner’s children from another relationship. In that case, one parent can terminate their rights to allow second-parent adoption.
To complete a voluntary surrender, parents must fill out a legal form. Two witnesses and a notary public must sign the form. This is a permanent decision. The only way a parent can reclaim their parental rights after voluntary surrender is to prove they signed the surrender documents due to fraud or duress.
Work With a Lawyer Who Knows Parental Rights in Florida
If you need help with how to voluntarily terminate parental rights in Florida or are concerned that your rights might be terminated involuntarily, the lawyers at Travis Walker Law can help.
Terminating parental rights is an extremely sensitive and difficult topic. The cases are stressful, and taking action can seem daunting. An experienced Florida custody lawyer can provide compassionate advice and vigorous advocacy to help you protect your rights.
We will p help you navigate this complicated process. Contact the experienced team of family law attorneys at Travis Walker Law to discuss your case.