Utah Code Title 78A-6-502: Judiciary and Judicial Administration
1. Division means the Division of Child and Family Services within the Department of Human Services.
2. Failure of parental adjustment means that a parent or parents are unable or unwilling within a reasonable time to substantially correct the circumstances, conduct, or conditions that led to placement of their child outside of their home, notwithstanding reasonable and appropriate efforts made by the Division of Child and Family Services to return the child to that home.
3. Plan means a written agreement between the parents of a child, who has been removed from the child’s home by the juvenile court, and the Division of Child and Family Services or written conditions and obligations imposed upon the parents directly by the juvenile court, that have a primary objective of reuniting the family or, if the parents fail or refuse to comply with the terms and conditions of the case plan, freeing the child for adoption.
Parental rights are the set of legal rights granted to parents, which allow them to make important decisions on behalf of their child. Parental rights also refer to a parent’s right to take certain actions on behalf of their child. These rights reinforce the basic legal tenet that parents have the right to the care and companionship of their child. In general, parental rights include:
• The right to assume legal and physical custody of their child;
• The right to certain other rights related to visitation and contact with their child;
• The right to make fundamental decisions for their child such as the child’s education, religious beliefs, and medical treatments;
• The right to pass property on to their child through inheritance; and
• The right to enter into a contract on behalf of their minor child.
Parental rights are intended to ensure the wellbeing of the child. These rights are generally considered to automatically be granted to biological parents. However, they may also be extended to adoptive parents, foster parents, and legal guardians. Further, laws that define and specify parental rights and who may receive them vary widely from state to state. In the parent-child relationship, parents have some basic rights and responsibilities. Both parents automatically have the right to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care, and other important concerns. However, a court can take these rights away from a parent if either one violates the law or if the father fails to claim paternity. A parent also may voluntarily terminate these rights. Termination of parental rights ends the legal parent-child relationship.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Each state has its own statute(s) providing for the termination of parental rights. The most common reasons for involuntary termination include:
• Severe or chronic abuse or neglect
• Sexual abuse
• Abuse or neglect of other children in the household
• Long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent(s)
• Long-term alcohol or drug-induced incapacity of the parent(s)
• Failure to support or maintain contact with the child
• Involuntary termination of the rights of the parent to another child.
A parent can also lose their parental rights after being convicted of certain felonies. If a parent commits a crime of violence against their child or another family member, the court has the option to remove their rights and terminate the child-parent relationship. Also, if a parent is required to be imprisoned for a length of time that requires the child to enter foster care because there are no alternatives, the parent can lose parental rights.
Foster Care Attorney
If the termination of parental rights leaves a child with no legally responsible parents or guardians, the court will typically place the child in foster care. Before a state can take such a drastic action and place a child in foster care, it must file a petition under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). However, state agencies aren’t required to petition in the following circumstances:
• The child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months.
• The court has determined the child is an abandoned infant.
• The parent committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of another of his or her children
• The parent was otherwise involved in the murder or voluntary manslaughter of another of his or her children, i.e. aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited the act.
• The parent committed a felony assault that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or another of his or her children.
Many states have adopted statutes that provide for more protections of children in the above circumstances, shortening the wait times required before parental rights can be terminated and the child is placed in foster care. However, more than half of the states also have exceptions to these guidelines, such as when the child is provided for by a relative or the state believes complete termination of parental rights isn’t in the child’s best interests. Most states consider a child’s best interests in termination proceedings. In some states, statutes use general language mandating that the child’s health and safety be paramount in all proceedings, while other states’ legislation lists specific factors that must be considered, such as the child’s age; the physical, mental, emotional and moral well-being; cultural and attachment issues; and the child’s reasonable preferences.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
Most states don’t allow reinstatement of parental rights once they’ve been terminated. However, under some circumstances, such as when the child has not yet been permanently placed in a foster home, the parent may have the option to file a petition and show they’ve become fit to provide a safe and nurturing home. Typically, parents voluntarily terminate their rights when they wish to give the child up for adoption.
The main reason why parental rights may be terminated is for the child’s safety and wellbeing. The courts place high importance on the relationship between parents and their children. Therefore, should they decide to terminate parental rights, it would be for a very serious reason. Terminating parental rights is generally used to remove the child from an unhealthy or destructive environment, or as part of the adoption process. The court will always first consider the child’s best interests, which includes any time there is danger to a child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.
The most common reasons why a court would terminate parental rights include:
• Child neglect, abuse, or deprivation;
• Untreated substance abuse on the part of the parent;
• Emotional illness, or mental illness or deficiency on the part of the parent;
• Child abandonment, an example being if the parent has not attempted to provide for their financial needs for an extended period of time, and they do not have a good reason for this;
• A crime has been committed against the other parent;
• Sexual assault; or
• Failure to adjust, such as the parent failing to correct any issues that previously caused the involvement of child protective services.
Parents themselves may willingly consent to terminating their parental rights. Doing so removes all of their legal rights to their child, and dissolves the parent-child relationship. Thus, the parent is not the child’s legal parent any longer. This relieves them of the legal responsibilities and duties to their child, such as the obligation to provide for the child’s basic needs. For example, there is no longer any obligation to pay child support, but there are also no longer any visitation rights. Further, the child may be adopted without the parent’s permission.
Cases in which a parent requests to terminate their parental rights are especially difficult. This is because courts tend to want children to have both parents in their lives, for emotional or financial support. However, if the parent believes they are endangering the child, it might be best that they relinquish their parental rights. Importantly, giving up parental rights simply to avoid dealing with a child’s behavioral issues or to avoid paying child support, will most likely be frowned upon by the court.
Parental rights may not be terminated for the following reasons:
• A parent has committed a crime and been incarcerated, but is now clean or has taken reformative action;
• Conflicts of religion, unless it endangers the child or ignores their best interests;
• The fact that a parent lives with a non-married member of the opposite sex; or
• The parent merely wishes to no longer be the child’s parent.
• It is important to note that the parental rights of both fathers and mothers are supposed to be equal.
However, fathers may have trouble asserting their parental rights, as it may be more difficult for them to establish that they are the legal parent of the child. Fathers must first prove that they are the child’s biological father. Then, once fatherhood has been established, the state cannot remove parental rights from the father, aside from any of the circumstances mentioned above.
• Another unique circumstance is if the parents are not married. It is not necessarily easier to terminate parental rights if the parents are not married, as the biological parents have the same rights as married parents if they are one family unit with their child. However, if the mother is married to a man who is not the child’s biological father, the mother’s husband is legally presumed to be the father of the child.
• Traditionally, cases involving unwed parents would often result in the termination of the biological father’s parental rights. More recently, the father’s rights movement has highlighted the potential damage done by denying a child access to their biological father.
• If a person becomes a parent through adoption or marriage, they have the same parental rights and responsibilities as a biological parent. As such, non-biological parental rights may only be terminated due to one of the reasons discussed above. Regardless of how a person came to be the child’s parent, they have the same rights to the child as long as they are the child’s legal parent.
Making a Parenting Agreement
A Parenting Agreement (sometimes referred to as a Parenting Plan) is a written statement that both parents sign up to as a way of establishing the ground rules around the way that they will parent apart. It can cover anything you both feel is important, most parents include things such parenting time arrangements, their children’s education and rules around new partners. Parenting Agreements work best when they are not too prescriptive, are flexible and are regularly updated to take account of children’s changing needs over time. You can wait to start writing a parenting agreement until you’ve nailed down details with the other parent, or you can create drafts earlier in the process. Ideally, parents should work together closely, rather than have one simply sign off at the end. You can have an attorney write your custody agreement or if you want to save money, you can write it yourself.
Your parenting agreement should contain any information that you and the other parent need to raise your child after you separate. The general parts of a parenting agreement are:
• A parenting time schedule
• Information about how the parents will make decisions for the child
• Information about finances and expenses
• Parenting provisions (rules about raising the child)
• Any other information you want to include
Your agreement should be personalized to fit the needs of your child and your unique situation. Each part of your agreement should work for your family and benefit your child.
A good schedule has the following:
• A residential schedule that shows where the child is on regular weekdays and weekends
• A holiday schedule
• A school break and vacation schedule
• Special events that show times when the normal schedule changes
Custody X Change guides you through the process of creating each part of your schedule. Then, it puts your schedule into a calendar so you know exactly what’s going on.
Creating your schedule with Custody X Change allows you to:
• Explore options for your schedule until you find the right one for your child
• Calculate the parenting time you’ll have with your child
• Easily make changes to your schedule as circumstances change
• Include time the child spends without either parent
• Sync your custody schedule with Google Calendar, iCalendar, etc.
• Share your schedule with the other parent so you both know what’s going on
Your agreement needs to explain how you and the other parent will make decisions for your child about medical care, dental care, education, religion, extracurricular activities, etc.
Here are some ways you can share or divide the decision-making responsibility:
• One parent has sole authority to make big decisions
• Both parents have authority to make big decisions individually
• Parents make all big decisions together
• Each parent is in charge of certain types of decisions
• When each parent has the child, they make decisions for the child
When you make your agreement in Custody X Change, the “decision-making” section of the parenting plan template helps you decide what decision-making authority to select and how to explain it.
Finances and expenses
In most states, you need to file child support papers along with your parenting agreement. You may want to include child support information in your agreement so you have everything together. Since support is often dependent on parenting time, you can use the parenting timeshare calculator to help you get the right information for your state’s child support formula. You should also come up with a plan for how you and the other parent will handle additional expenses for the child and put the information in your agreement. This includes expenses for school activities and other things that child support may not cover.
Parenting rules and provisions
You can put addition parenting rules and provisions in your agreement to make the custody situation work better.
Some common provisions that parents include are:
• The right of first refusal, which gives a parent the first right to have the child if the other parent needs child care
• Information about transportation to and from exchanges
• A rule that parents must provide each other parent with an itinerary when they travel with the child
• A rule that parents will not speak negatively about each other in front of the child
• A process for how parents will resolve disputes
• A method for making changes to the agreement as the child’s needs change
Think about common problems in your situation and come up with a provision that will help and speak with your custody lawyer at Ascent Law to have things drafted perfectly.
Lawyer For Termination of Parental Rights
When you need a lawyer for a case regarding the termination of parental rights in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506