Utah Code 78A-6-504
Judiciary and Judicial Administration: Petition–Who may file
1. Any interested party, including a foster parent, may file a petition for termination of the parent-child relationship with regard to a child.
2. The attorney general shall file a petition for termination of parental rights under this part on behalf of the division.
The decision to terminate a person’s parental rights is one of the most serious that a family court can make. Whether your rights are being threatened or you need the court to remove the other parent’s rights, you will need excellent support during this time. In addition to your network of social support, you need an experienced family law attorney to ensure you make the best possible case to the court. For different reasons, there might come a time when a parent’s rights are terminated under Utah law. This means the parent is no longer considered the child’s legal parent, and all parental rights and obligations come to an end. Termination of parental rights in Utah often comes up in the adoption process. For instance, in a stepparent adoption, the biological father could give consent to the adoption and voluntarily waive his parental rights. In a situation where the biological father refuses, the family law court could terminate his parent’s rights without consent. Another situation where parental rights could be terminated are during a juvenile dependency court proceeding. If either parent has drug or alcohol addiction problems, criminal issues, abusive or they are found unfit, the juvenile court could terminate the parents’ rights. In general, there are two ways in which a parent can lose their parental rights: voluntarily and involuntarily. Either way, parental rights are not terminated until the court orders it. A parent who wants to relinquish their rights, the other parent of a child, or a state’s Child Protection Services (CPS) may petition the court for the termination of parental rights.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Because of the term parental rights, some people may assume that parents can quickly sign away their rights. However, Utah courts weigh a parent’s desire to relinquish their rights against the child’s right to have two parents. As such, parents must have valid reasons in order to voluntarily terminate their parental rights and relieve them of their responsibilities. In general, courts are willing to grant voluntary termination of parental rights when it is for the purposes of adoption. For example, if a couple does not believe they can parent a child and wants another couple to become the parents, the courts will likely see that the child’s right to have parents is fulfilled and grant the termination. Step-parent adoptions in which one parent is absent may also give the court a reason to grant the order. Typically, a termination of parental rights means custody of the child will fall to the other parent, but could also be given o a step-parent or a grandparent. If no appropriate family member emerges to take custody of the child after termination of parental rights, the family court will most likely put the child in foster care. The state of Utah provides more protection for children than federal law and has laws that lay out more reasons why parental rights may be terminated. All family law courts in Utah aggressively make a child’s best interests the highest priority. When it comes to child custody and parental rights cases, the primary consideration of the court is the benefit of the child. In some cases, the court must involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights in order to keep a child safe. However, this is a serious order to make, so courts only do it in extreme cases. A parent can lose his or her rights if they:
• Struggle with an alcohol or substance addiction that keeps them from being able to parent
• Commit severe or chronic abuse or neglect against the child
• Abandon the child
• Commit any kind of sexual abuse against the child
• Fail to maintain their financial or parenting obligations for an extended time
• Suffer from a mental impairment that keeps them from being able to parent
• Get convicted of certain serious felonies
• Commit any violent crime or domestic violence against a family member
• Get sentenced to a long prison stay, particularly if this leaves the child in foster care
• If you have re-married and want your new spouse to adopt your child
In Utah law, court could terminate the parental rights of a parent if they have abandoned their child. For instance, you might be able to establish the other parent has abandoned your child and terminate their custodial rights if the other parent has not provided any financial support, had little or no contact with your child for over a year, and their intent was to abandon your child. This list does not include all factors that may cause a parent to lose rights to a child, but these are some of the most common reasons. Generally, the courts only terminate rights if the petitioner can prove that doing so is in the best interest of the child’s health, safety, and welfare. When a parent’s rights are terminated, it legally separates the child from the parent completely. The parent then no longer has any right to visitation or custody. Typically, they do not pay child support either. Furthermore, the child loses the right to the parent’s inheritance, social security, or medical insurance benefits. If the court terminates the rights for one parent but sees the other as fit to parent, all rights and responsibilities fall on the remaining parent. If the rights were given voluntarily in order to facilitate adoption, the adoption can then move forward. In some cases, the court terminates rights involuntarily for both biological parents.
Utah is one of the states in which parents can seek the reinstatement of parental rights after termination. However, convincing a court to restore these rights is anything but easy. Only the child can petition to restore the parent’s rights–the parent cannot get the ball rolling. Furthermore, the child (with the help of a social worker or caretaker) must file the petition within three years of the original termination of rights, and the child must not have been adopted during that time. If a parent has corrected the issues that caused the termination of parental rights, and if the family court determines that reinstatement of parental rights is in the child’s best interests, the court might approve the child’s petition. If the child is older than 12 years old, they have the right to attend the hearing to speak about the termination or reinstatement of the parent’s rights. Finally, the court must see that the original issue that caused the termination has been resolved and that restoring the rights would be in the best interest of the child.
Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
The phrase “termination of parental rights” can be the most frightening words a parent can hear. Fears of losing a child to the system can push a parent to work on improving their situation for the child’s benefit. However, to some, termination brings relief, as the parent knows that they can’t provide for the child but may have been unable to reach out for help. Some parents voluntarily terminate their parental interest as they feel it’s best for the child. The parental rights termination procedure is perhaps one of the strongest legal mechanisms available to protect children in need. In many cases, a termination proceeding is a necessary precursor to the adoption of the child. In some states and cases, it’s possible to reinstate parental rights after termination or consenting to adoption. The exact grounds for terminating parental rights vary from state to state. The following list summarizes the major grounds for terminating a parent’s rights to his or her child.
Common Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights
Child Abuse Factors
• Severe or chronic physical abuse of the child.
• Any sexual abuse of the child.
• Severe psychological abuse or torture of the child.
• Extreme emotional damage to the child inflicted by the parent.
• Child neglect by failing to provide shelter, food, or other needed care as is required by parental obligations.
• Abuse or neglect of other children in the same household.
• Abandonment of the child or extreme parental disinterest.
• Felony conviction of the parent for a violent crime against the child or another family member.
• The child would be at risk if returned to the parent’s home.
• Long-term mental illness of the parent.
• Long-term alcohol or drug induced incapacity of the parent.
• Failure to support the child.
• Failure to maintain contact with the child.
• Failure to provide education.
• Felony conviction of the parent when the term of imprisonment is long enough to negatively impact the child and the only other source of care for the child is foster care.
• Failure of the parent to comply with a court ordered plan.
• Inducing the child to commit a crime or crimes.
• Unreasonable withholding of consent to adoption by the non-custodial parent.
• The identity or location of the father is unknown after a reasonable attempt to determine or find him.
• The putative or presumptive father is not the child’s biological father.
• Giving birth to three or more drug affected infants.
• Other egregious conduct or heinous or abhorrent behavior by the parent either to the child or others in a way that affects the child.
• Voluntary relinquishment of rights by the parent.
• Failure of reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.
• The child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, and the parent is still not ready for reunification.
• Risk of substantial harm to the child.
• The child’s need for continuity and care.
• The child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.
• A newborn child is addicted to alcohol or drugs.
• The child has developed a strong and healthy relationship with his or her foster or other substitute family.
• The preference of the child.
The Steps For Termination Of Parental Rights
The first step is to file a petition that includes the child’s birth name, age and date of birth, their current address or the county of residence if the child is in the custody of the state. That petition will also include:
• The facts alleging the basis for the termination of parental rights.
• A verified statement that the putative father registry has been consulted within ten working days of the filing of the petition, whether there is a claim on the registry to the paternity of the child, whether there is any other potential claim to the paternity of the child, and whether any other parental or guardianship rights have been or must be terminated before the child can be made available for adoption.
• A medical and social history of the child and his or her father (when available), though the absence of such information is not a barrier to termination.
Terminating parental rights completely severs the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the parent or guardian and after their rights have been terminated, and the parent will have no further notice about the adoption proceedings, or have any kind of legal relationship with the child. When the petition is filed the Court issues a summons to the necessary parties. If a parent whose rights are to be terminated is incarcerated, they must also receive notice of the time and place of the hearing.
• The Respondent may appear in person at the hearing or file a written answer to the petition.
• The Court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem for the child.
• An adjudicatory hearing on termination will take place.
• The Court will enter a ruling within 30 days of the hearing.
Any parent, stepparent, grandparent, or other relative can allege child abandonment and file a petition to obtain custody. In addition, any interested party, even if not related to the child, can also file a petition to obtain custody alleging abandonment, if both parents have neglected, abused, or abandoned the child. If only one parent has abandoned the child, usually the person asking this question above will be the non-abandoning parent, usually the one who has custody. They can also file a petition to limit the child’s parent time, request that the other parent’s parent time be supervised, or request that the other parent have a parental fitness evaluation. If the custodial parent believes that sufficient grounds exist to terminate the other parent’s parental rights, and that it is in the child’s best interests to do so, then they also file a termination of parental rights petition. If that petitioning parent wishes their spouse, the child’s stepparent, to adopt the child, then with the termination petition they may also file a petition for adoption by the stepparent.
Parental Rights Lawyer
When you need legal help with 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