Salt Lake City Utahis a great place to live with your family. If you are considering adopting a child, speak to an experienced family lawyer in Salt Lake City Utah.
Before a child can be adopted into a new family, the rights of the child’s birth parents must be totally and irrevocably terminated. As a result, thousands of children every year are affected by the legal process of terminating parental rights. In many cases of infant adoption, a birth mother and birth father voluntarily relinquish their rights over a child–a process that they may agree to months before their child is born. In other cases of infant adoption, and often when an older child is adopted, parental rights are terminated involuntarily as a result of a judicial determination that the birth parents are unable to provide adequate parenting. Consequently, every adoption is preceded by a termination, and public policy on adoption is always entangled in legal proceedings regarding the termination of parental rights.
The involuntary termination of parental rights is a striking example of the ways in which the needs, rights, and obligations of parents, families, children, and the state can come into conflict. Many of these cases are the result of situations in which parents have chronically or severely maltreated their children. When parental maltreatment threatens the well-being of a child, the state’s interest in preserving and strengthening families can conflict with its interest in protecting children and providing them with the opportunity to develop in a healthy way. Parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit can conflict with laws placing limits on parents’ actions and with laws mandating removal of children from their homes when it appears that their right to a reasonably safe existence is being threatened. Children’s need to remain connected to their parents and siblings may conflict with their need to be raised by parents who can provide an adequate environment for their development.
When a child is identified as neglected or maltreated, agents of the state (typically a department of social services and/or a family court) must initially decide whether it is safe to leave the child in the home and work to rehabilitate the family by providing services or whether it is in the child’s best interest to place the child in temporary foster care until such a time as it is safe to return the child to the home. They must later decide whether children who have been temporarily placed in foster care should be returned home, remain in temporary care, or be placed in a permanent adoptive home. There are some situations in which timely rehabilitation of a birth family is likely, such as when a young mother neglects the needs of her child because of a lack of knowledge of child development.
Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)
In response to the continuing escalation of the foster care problem during the 1990s, the U. S. Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997. One of the primary purposes of ASFA was to correct many of the deficiencies of its predecessor regarding the termination of parental rights. The AACWA’s requirement that states use extensive and diligent efforts to rehabilitate the parents and preserve the family was criticized as going too far to ensure family preservation. ASFA clarified the reasonable efforts requirement and stated that child safety was paramount in all foster-care decisions. In effect, ASFA tightened two important time lines for children in foster care: those regarding the state’s development of a plan for the permanent placement of the child and those regarding the termination of parental rights. The ASFA requires that a permanency hearing (a court hearing presided over by a family court judge that reviews a child’s temporary status and permanency goals) be held within 12 months of the child’s entering foster care. It also requires that the state file or join a petition to terminate the parent’s rights over any child if the child has been in foster care for 15 of the 22 most recent months, unless a relative taking care of the child or there is a compelling reason as to why termination would not be in the best interests of the child. Although the ASFA remedied some of the more glaring deficiencies in the AACWA, it has drawn sharp criticism.
Of particular concern is the provision that requires states to seek the termination of parental rights, with few exceptions, in the case of any child who has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. Opponents of the ASFA hold that it may terminate the rights of parents who could eventually provide a stable home, and that it fails to take account of the fact that adoptive families might not be available for children whose parents’ rights have been terminated – thus putting children in the position of having no legally recognized parents.
In summary, many competing rights and interests must be considered in most cases involving the termination of parental rights. Over the years, our society has struggled to find the correct balance between these competing rights, and this process continues today.
Termination of Parental Rights
If you are seeking termination of parental rights, consult an experienced Salt Lake City Utah family lawyer today. The termination of parental rights is one of the most momentous procedures in the U. S. legal system. In part this is because of the fundamental right, in our society, of families to be free from state interference and the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit. Termination of parental rights strikes at one of the core legal and social values of our society. Termination is also important because it is irreversible, barring a finding that fraud occurred during the termination. Termination of parental rights effectively severs a birth parent’s rights over his or her child and places the child under the legal guardianship of the state. Whereas custody determinations can be reviewed periodically, by law a parent whose rights have been terminated can never apply to a court to have those rights restored.
Termination of parental rights is a relatively rare occurrence for children in foster care. The overwhelming majority of children who are removed from their homes for reasons of abuse or neglect are eventually reunited with their birth families.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Parents can have their rights voluntarily terminated in a legal proceeding. This typically happens when parents have decided voluntarily to relinquish their child for adoption. Voluntary terminations are most common in the adoption of infants. However, in some cases involving the abuse or neglect of children by their parents, the parents may agree voluntarily to relinquish their rights as part of a bargain with a district attorney or a department of child and family services (DCFS).
All voluntary terminations must be made freely by a parent, and most state laws prohibit the child’s mother or father from being coerced or tricked into terminating their rights. Further, parents must fully understand what it is that they are relinquishing for the decision to be made freely. The majority of states do not allow a mother to relinquish rights to her infant until after the birth of the child, and the other states allow for revocation of consent given before the child’s birth for a time shortly after the birth. These laws are based on the belief that the mother will not fully understand what it means to relinquish the rights to her child until after she has given birth. Despite the legal expectations, some evidence suggests that some birth mothers do experience feelings of coercion and indecision regarding the relinquishment of their child.
Birth fathers, including unwed fathers, have rights similar to those of birth mothers in termination proceedings. Efforts must be made to locate a father who is not aware of the birth of his child so that he can choose whether to terminate his rights. In addition, efforts must be made to identify the father if the mother is unwilling or unable to identify him. However, a father who knows of the existence of his child and who has made no effort to participate in the child’s life may be considered to have abandoned or neglected the child, thus permitting termination of his rights.
When all parties agree to a voluntary termination of parental rights, few conflicts between parents, children, and the state arise. Parents who cannot or who prefer not to raise a child are relieved of that responsibility; the child, it is hoped, will be placed in a loving home; and the state’s interest in promoting child development and family life is maintained. One area in which conflict has emerged involves situations in which adoptive parents have changed previous agreements with birth parents or other birth relatives regarding visitation once an adoption has been finalized.
Involuntary terminations involve the state, usually through a department of social services, petitioning a court to have a parent’s rights terminated against the parent’s wishes. Most of these cases involve children who have been removed from their parents because of chronic or severe abuse or neglect. Termination of parental rights is undertaken because the department believes that the parents will not be able to provide adequate care for their child.
Cases involving the termination of parental rights are often difficult to decide because of the legal conflicts they involve. Termination cases challenge the fundamental right of parents to be free of state interference in raising their children and the fundamental right of family and individual privacy. Balanced against these rights is the right of children to be raised in a family atmosphere that will allow them to develop in a healthy way. When the state initiates termination proceedings against a parent, the state is taking the stand that the child’s right to a healthy upbringing is impossible to attain in the child’s current family and that the child’s right to a healthy upbringing supersedes the parent’s rights to family and individual privacy. Conversely, if the state decides not to terminate birth parents’ rights in cases of abuse or neglect, the state reaffirms the importance of parents’ right to raise their children and/or implies that it would be in the child’s best interest to remain with his or her birth parents, even if time in a foster family is required to provide the birth parents with the chance to improve their parenting abilities.
Legal proceedings to terminate parents’ rights over their children often pit the rights and responsibilities of parents, children, and the state against each other.
In our society, parents have the fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit, with no governmental interference, children have the right to a healthy upbringing, and the state has interests in maintaining family privacy and ensuring that its children are raised in a healthy way. Laws to balance these rights have changed over the past years. Laws making it relatively easy for the state to remove a child from his or her birth parents were superseded by laws making permanent removal much more difficult, and those laws, in turn, have been superseded by recent laws making termination easier to accomplish in a shorter period of time. The difficulty of balancing the rights of parents, children, and the state is clearly shown in these changing laws – as is society’s changing beliefs about the relative importance of parents’ and children’s rights when these come into conflict. Ongoing changes in these laws and the way they are used by the courts and social work agencies are likely to continue as our society continues to struggle to arrive at a good balance between the rights and responsibilities of parents, children, and the state.
Adopting a child is a great experience. However all the legal formalities and requirements must be complied with. Make sure that the birth parents of the child have waived their parental rights. If not, there could be problems later. Always consult an experienced Salt Lake City Utah family lawyer before you start the adoption process.
Salt Lake City Utah Family Law Attorney Free Consultation
When you need a family law attorney in Salt Lake City Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We can help you with Divorce. Child Custody. Adoptions. Termination of Rights.
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