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What Is Required for the Termination of Parental Rights in Florida?

The termination of parental rights can be an emotionally charged process. It may be undertaken for several reasons, ranging from permitting others to adopt the children, to protecting children from egregious or abusive conditions. There are numerous grounds for the termination of the parental rights in Florida, each with embedded requirements within them. Here is a simplified outline of them:

Voluntary Termination

In order for a child to be adopted by someone else, the child’s birth parents’ rights must be terminated. If the birth parents are terminating their rights voluntarily:

  • The parents must have a written surrender document, signed by witnesses and notarized; and
  • The parents must have agreed to a court order giving custody of the child to someone else (the state or adoptive parents).

Abandonment

When a parent’s identity is unknown and they cannot be found for 60 days, the child may be considered “abandoned” under Florida law and parental rights over the child may be terminated.

Abuse, Threats to Child Safety, or Egregious Conduct

Florida law provides several examples of situations in which parental rights may be terminated because there is a threat to the child. While these examples are numerous, the bar for terminating parental rights tends to be very high, and requirements vary based on the situation. Generally, to have parental rights terminated under these provisions:

  • The parent must behave in a way that threatens the life, safety, or health of the child or had the opportunity and capability to prevent others from doing so and did not (conduct like abuse, exposure to dangerous substances, or crimes); and
  • The provision of state services or intervention did not stop or prevent the continuing behavior on the parent’s part.

Incarceration and Serious Crimes

Parental rights may be terminated if the parent is jailed and:

  • The sentence is expected to take up a significant portion of the childhood; or
  • The parent is considered a violent career criminal, habitual serious offender, or sexual predator.

Even without a jail sentence, being convicted of serious crimes like first or second degree murder, sex crimes, or offenses that make the parent eligible for a life sentence or capital punishment can result in the termination of parental rights.

Substance Abuse

Parental rights can be terminated on the grounds of substance abuse if:

  • The parent has a history of alcohol or drug abuse that is extensive and chronic;
  • The alcohol or drug abuse renders the parent incapable of caring for the child; and
  • The parent has refused to complete available treatment.

While there are many rationales available in Florida law to justify the termination of parental rights (and the requirements do expand beyond the outline described here), the state does attempt to avoid termination wherever possible. Generally, the state of Florida seeks to take reasonable efforts to reunify and preserve families and parental rights. The termination of these rights is an intensely serious matter handled in the courts. If you are concerned your parental rights may be terminated, believe that your parental rights are being violated, or even are seeking to navigate voluntary rights termination for adoption or other purposes, you likely need an attorney to best represent your interests. Consider contacting the experienced Boca Raton attorneys at Schwartz l White at 561-391-9943 for a consultation today.

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