Utah Code 78A-6-507
Grounds For Termination Of Parental Rights–Findings Regarding Reasonable Efforts
1. Subject to the protections and requirements of Section 78A-6-503 , and if the court finds strictly necessary, the court may terminate all parental rights with respect to a parent if the court finds any one of the following:
a) that the parent has abandoned the child;
b) that the parent has neglected or abused the child;
c) that the parent is unfit or incompetent;
d) i. that the child is being cared for in an out-of-home placement under the supervision of the court or the division;
Ii.that the parent has substantially neglected, willfully refused, or has been unable or unwilling to remedy the circumstances that cause the child to be in an out-of-home placement; and
iii. that there is a substantial likelihood that the parent will not be capable of exercising proper and effective parental care in the near future;
e) failure of parental adjustment, as defined in this chapter;
f) that only token efforts have been made by the parent:
i. to support or communicate with the child;
ii. to prevent neglect of the child;
iii. to eliminate the risk of serious harm to the child; or
iv. to avoid being an unfit parent;
g) i. that the parent has voluntarily relinquished the parent’s parental rights to the child; and
Ii.that termination is in the child’s best interest;
h) that, after a period of trial during which the child was returned to live in the child’s own home, the parent substantially and continuously or repeatedly refused or failed to give the child proper parental care and protection; or
i) the terms and conditions of safe relinquishment of a newborn child have been complied with, pursuant to Title 62A, Chapter 4a, Part 8, Safe Relinquishment of a Newborn Child.
2. The court may not terminate the parental rights of a parent because the parent has failed to complete the requirements of a child and family plan.
3. (a) Except as provided in Subsection (3)(b), in any case in which the court has directed the division to provide reunification services to a parent, the court must find that the division made reasonable efforts to provide those services before the court may terminate the parent’s rights under Subsection (1)(b), (c), (d), (e), (f), or (h).
(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (3)(a), the court is not required to make the finding under Subsection (3)(a) before terminating a parent’s rights:
I.under Subsection (1)(b), if the court finds that the abuse or neglect occurred subsequent to adjudication; or
Ii.if reasonable efforts to provide the services described in Subsection (3)(a) are not required under federal law, and federal law is not inconsistent with Utah law.
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.
Best Interests of the Child
Courts make a variety of decisions that affect children, including placement and custody determinations, safety and permanency planning, and proceedings for termination of parental rights. Whenever a court makes such a determination, it must weigh whether its decision will be in the “best interests” of the child. 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.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Typically, parents voluntarily terminate their rights when they wish to give the child up for adoption. Termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary. When it comes to voluntary termination of parental rights, the process is quite difficult because children are generally seen to have a right to a parental relationship and, particularly, a right to receive financial support and care from both parents. Two common situations that often lead to requests to terminate parental rights include a parent who wishes to terminate his/her child support or financial obligation for the child; or a parent who desires to have the other parent completely out of their life.
Reinstatement of Parental Rights
When a court orders the termination of parental rights, the legal relationship between a parent and child ceases to exist. It is very rare and only occurs in especially serious cases, such as those involving child abuse or severe child neglect. And even though a parent may petition the court to voluntarily give up his or her parental rights, the main consideration is always the child’s best interests. Laws allowing reinstatement were drafted generally in response to older children who were aging out of foster care and wanted to re-establish family ties. Usually, reinstatement is available only on the condition that the child has not been permanently placed with a foster home within a given period of time. Consider meeting with a family law attorney in your area if you have additional questions about reinstatement of parental rights or would like to initiate the process. Remember, a person whose parental rights have been terminated also loses custody or visitation rights with the child. If the voluntary termination occurred through a state child welfare agency, some states do provide for limited post-termination access to the child by the former parent. The family code of each state governs the rules and procedures for termination and post-termination access, if any. To understand how the laws of your state apply to your situation, contact a qualified family law attorney in your area.
<2>Findings Regarding Reasonable Efforts
The reasonable efforts/no reasonable efforts findings are the most powerful tools given to the courts by the federal legislation. These findings enable the court to determine whether the agency has done its job to prevent removal, assist in reunifying families, and achieve timely permanency for the child. The trial judge has a difficult task since there is no definition of “reasonable efforts” and the services available in each community are different and may change over time. Nevertheless, the courts are obliged to make several “reasonable efforts” findings throughout the pendency of each child welfare case in which a child has been removed from parental care. Unfortunately, the reasonable efforts tool to prevent removal has not been litigated by our courts. Less than 1 percent of appellate case law deals with the reasonable efforts to prevent removal issue. That means that attorneys are not challenging the “reasonable efforts” findings judges are making at the initial hearing. The issue is not being litigated. On the other hand, over 98 percent of appellate case law deals with the reasonable efforts issue after a court have terminated parental rights. In those appeals, the parents’ attorney argues that the agency did not provide reasonable services to promote reunification of the family. The issue of reasonable efforts to prevent removal is not litigated in these appeals. It is obvious that “reasonable efforts” litigation occurs at the conclusion of the case, not at the beginning.
The structure and procedures within the court system make it next to impossible for the “reasonable efforts to prevent removal” issue to be litigated at the initial hearing. Parents who appear at the initial hearing without an attorney do not understand the legal issues. They certainly do not understand that the agency has a duty to provide services (reasonable efforts) to prevent removal. They have often not been appointed or obtained counsel before that hearing. Attorneys must be present to represent parents at the initial hearing because parents are not able to raise the complex issue of reasonable efforts to prevent removal. That is a sophisticated legal issue that only a trained attorney can address. And yet attorneys are often appointed at or just before the initial hearing. That is when they receive the petition and supporting papers that have been filed on behalf of the child. As a result of the timing of the appointment, they have insufficient time to prepare for the hearing and thus are unable to test the “reasonable efforts” issue. Another problem is that most judges do not carefully address the reasonable efforts issue. They do not question the social worker who made the removal and do not make a record of the facts they rely upon when making a “reasonable efforts” finding. In some jurisdictions, judges simply check a box indicating reasonable efforts were made by the social worker. Many judges do not believe they should be telling the social service agency what they should be doing. Moreover, many judges do not want to make a “no reasonable efforts” finding. They do not want to take money away from an already financially strapped agency. Ironically, judges do not seem to resist making findings in criminal cases that police officers did not follow the law. These rulings can result in release of the defendant when judges grant motions to suppress evidence or confessions by the defendant, but making similar findings in child welfare cases indicating that the social worker did not do her job correctly in providing adequate services to prevent removal do not appear in the appellate case law.
Termination of 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