Courts in North Carolina operate under a presumption that parents’ rights to their children are a significant one, and that it serves the best interest of children to have an ongoing relationship with their parents. Despite that parental rights are a fundamental interest, there are limits to these rights.
For example, courts routinely make decisions about child custody that restricts a parent’s visitation and access to a child. This can happen when the court determines that a parent’s conduct indicates that the parent-child relationship is not suitable, so a restriction of access is in the child’s best interest.
There are circumstances where courts can go beyond this, in exceptional cases where the termination of a parent’s rights is sought. Termination of parental rights is the last resort and many important factors are considered before terminating a parent’s rights to their child(ren).
Elements of a Parental Termination Case
There is a high threshold for termination to occur as courts take a parent’s rights to his or her children very seriously. The law requires that the party seeking termination of a parent’s rights prove its case by a “clear and convincing evidence” burden, which is the highest burden of proof available in legal cases that are not criminal cases.
The party seeking termination of a parent’s rights has to prove two things. First, it must be proven that the termination of the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest. Courts have incredibly wide latitude when it comes to the type of evidence it considers when making a best interest determination. This can range from the desires of the child to the needs of the child to the nature of the parent-child relationship to the misconduct of the parent.
In addition to a finding that termination is in the child’s best interest, a party must also prove one of the following termination “grounds” has occurred:
- The parent has abused or neglected the child;
- The child has been in foster care or an outside placement for more than 12 months without the parent making reasonable progress toward obtaining the safe return of the child;
- The child has been in foster care and the parent has willfully failed to pay child support for six consecutive months. However, the statute says that no parental rights shall be terminated for the sole reason that the parents are unable to care for the juvenile on account of their poverty;
- A parent has willfully failed to pay child support for a full year as required by a court order or custody agreement between the parents;
- A father of a child born out of wedlock has failed to acknowledge paternity of the child, legitimate the child as his own, or pay substantial financial support to the mother;
- A parent is incapable of providing proper care and supervision of the child based on the parent’s substance abuse, intellectual disability, mental illness, organic brain syndrome, or other condition;
- A parent has willfully abandoned their child for at least six consecutive months or an infant for 60 consecutive days;
- A parent has murdered or committed manslaughter of another of their children or child residing in their home, has aided in the death of the child, has committed felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury of the child, or has killed the child’s other parent;
- A parent has previously had his or her rights terminated to another child and the parent lacks the ability or willingness to establish a safe home;
- A parent committed rape that resulted in the child’s birth; or
- A parent has relinquished his or her parental rights to the child.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
If you need help resolving a child custody issue, the attorneys at New Direction Family Law are available today to answer your questions. Parenting is hard, especially when you have concerns about whether your child’s other parent is unsafe or unsuitable. Our attorneys are knowledgeable, compassionate, and experienced. We can help you make informed decisions to protect your children. We proudly serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or visit us at our website.