Can You Terminate a Parent’s Rights to their Child?

That seems to be a question that we hear more and more from potential clients.   First, it is important to define what it means when parental rights are terminated.  If parental rights are terminated it means that a parent no longer has any legal, social, or financial responsibility for the child.  The parent would have no right to custody or visitation with the child, nor would they have a financial responsibility to support the child.  This does not mean that a child support arrearage is erased, but going forward the parent would no longer be required to financially support the child.

What Does Indiana Law Say?

Indiana statutes provide three avenues to file a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR):

  1. Voluntarily
  2. Where the child is delinquent or a Child In Need of Services (CHINS)
  3. As the result of a criminal conviction.

One parent cannot file to terminate the parental rights of the other parent.  In each action for TPR, termination must be in the best interest of the child, and there must be a satisfactory plan in place for the continued care and treatment of the child.  In a voluntary TPR, one or both parents can voluntarily request that the local office of the Department of Child Services (DCS) or a licensed child placing agency file a termination of parental rights.  If the action is from a licensed child placing agency, the termination must be to further an adoption or other approved permanency plan.

Requirements Before a Parents Rights Are Terminated

TPR actions for CHINS or delinquent children can be initiated by DCS, the child’s court appointed special advocate (CASA), or the child’s guardian ad litem (GAL).  In addition to the requirements that the termination be in the child’s best interest and that there is a satisfactory plan for the continued care for the child, there are other requirements before a parent’s rights may be terminated, as follows:

(A) One of the following is true:

  1.  the child has been removed from the parent for at least six months;
  2.  a court has entered a finding that reunification is not required; or
  3.  the child has been removed from the home and under the supervision of DCS for at least fifteen (15) out of the most recent twenty-two (22) months;

AND

(B) One of the following is true:

  1. the conditions that led to the child’s removal from the home of the parents have not and will not be remedied;
  2. there is a reasonable probability that the continuation of the parent-child relationship poses a threat to the well-being of the child.; or
  3. The child has, on two (2) separate occasions, been adjudicated a child in need of services;

Indiana Code § 31-35-2-4

The final method for TPR is as a result of the parent’s criminal conviction for certain crimes.  Ind. Code § 31-35-3-4 allows for parental rights to be terminated if the parent is convicted of murder, causing suicide, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molesting, child exploitation, sexual misconduct with a minor, or incest.  Additionally, the victim of the offense must be less than sixteen (16) years old at the time of the offense, and the victim is the biological or adoptive child or the child of the spouse of the individual who committed the offense.  This type of TPR may be filed by DCS, the child’s CASA, or the child’s GAL.  In this case, the rights may be terminated not only to the victim of the offense, but also the victim’s siblings, or any biological or adoptive child of the person committing the offense.

Under each of these actions, if the Court determines that the requirements have been met, the Court may terminate the parent-child relationship.  If the Court grants the petition terminating parental rights, the parent loses all rights and obligations to the child.  If the Court denies the petition to terminate parental right the child may remain under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and will most likely continue in the same living situation, but the parent has the right to request visitation and/or custody.

The only other way in which a person’s parental rights are terminated is through an adoption action.  In that case, the person who is requesting to adopt the child may file the case.  One parent may consent to the adoption and still retain rights to the child (such as in a step-parent adoption), while the other parent would have their rights terminated.  Or, both parents may consent to the adoption and have each of their rights terminated with regard to the child.

If you have questions regarding termination of parental rights and need assistance, contact our experienced family law attorneys at Banks & Brower LLC for a free consultation at (317) 870-0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com.