The day of the final court hearing in any successful adoption is always a happy day. Loved ones of the family, lawyers, and judges always seem to have smiles on their faces when adoptions are approved and final. A Murfreesboro family attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains termination of parental rights by abandonment in Tennessee.
Before getting to this day, however, the parental rights of the biological parents must be terminated. This can be, and often is, a tedious process. Courts take this task very seriously. Few legal rights are as fundamental as that of parenting a child. For this reason, courts and judges are very careful to ensure that this process is conducted with integrity and according to the law.
In order to terminate a person’s parental rights to a child, unless the person agrees to have their rights terminated, the court must find that
1) legal grounds exist upon which to terminate these rights, and
2) termination of the person’s parental rights is in the best interest of the child.
There are several legal grounds upon which parental rights may be terminated in Tennessee. These are listed in our statutes (Tennessee Code Annotated) and all adoption lawyers are familiar with them. By quite a wide margin, the ground of “Abandonment” is the most frequent ground we see utilized by the attorneys and relied upon by courts to terminate a biological parent’s rights to a child.
Tennessee law defines abandonment as four continuous months of voluntarily failing to do one of two things:
1) failing to visit a child or
2) failing to financially support a child.
This four-month period of time must have been immediately prior to the filing of the petition to adopt the child. In many years of litigating adoption cases we have never seen a person’s parental rights terminated by the court, using the grounds of Abandonment, when the parent did visit with the child during this four month period of time, but solely failed to financially support the child during this time period. Although the statute does specifically include, in the definition of Abandonment, failing to support a child (for the required time period) this is rarely the sole ground utilized or relied on by courts to terminate parental rights. However, four months of continuous, voluntary failure to visit a child by the parent often results in termination of parental rights by a court on the ground of Abandonment.
Even when a parent has seen or supported a child, but the court finds that these were only “token” visits or support, the law still allows a court to terminate the rights of the parent whose support or visitation was only token. Another issue which often presents itself is whether a person’s behavior regarding abandonment was voluntary. For example, when a parent is incarcerated, the courts will not consider failing to visit a child during this time of incarceration to be voluntary. Tennessee law has changed from time to time regarding which party is charged with proving whether the behavior of a parent, or lack thereof, was voluntary. But if a court does not find the element of voluntariness, the ground of Abandonment is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. When circumstances suggesting that the behavior of a parent was involuntary are not present, the ground of Abandonment often qualifies as a basis upon which to terminate a parent’s rights to a child when the parent has not visited a child during the four month period of time immediately prior to the filing of a Petition to Adopt the child.
Although Abandonment is the most common ground we see in cases involving the termination of parental rights, Tennessee law has several other grounds upon which parental rights may be terminated. A knowledge of these grounds, as well as Tennessee cases which discuss, clarify, and apply these grounds, is essential to be successful in the termination of a person’s parental rights.
Adoptions, for Petitioners and clients, can often be an emotional roller coaster. But when all is said and done, it is a most rewarding endeavor and children benefit greatly from having the love of a chosen family.
Contact a Murfreesboro Family Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about termination of parents rights by abandonment contact an experienced Murfreesboro family attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.
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