The termination of parental rights is an extremely serious matter. The right of a parent to raise their children is a very basic and fundamental right. It is basically guaranteed, except under certain circumstances. So when that right is terminated, it can be very traumatic.
There are two ways in which these rights can be terminated: voluntarily or involuntarily, and they are very different. If parental rights are given up voluntarily, one or both parents give up their rights to raise their child willingly. If they are terminated involuntarily, those rights are taken away by way of a court decision.
Voluntary or Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?
Most cases where parental rights are terminated are involuntary. In those situations, the court finds that for a range of reasons, the parent or the parents should no longer have the right to raise their child. This action, of course, affects both the parent and the child who now no longer has a parent.
In some situations, there might be a guardian who the child already has a relationship with, for example a grandparent or a godparent, but in other cases, the child will enter the foster care system. This can be very traumatic for the child.
Because this is such a drastic step, it is essential to have an experienced family law attorney at your side to help you.
The same is true in the event of a voluntary termination of parental rights. Having an experienced child custody attorney is crucial if you are in that situation.
Involuntary Termination of Parental rights in Michigan
Under what circumstances would an involuntary termination of parental rights occur? First of all, someone has to present a strong case to the court. That could be Child Protective Services, The Department of Human Services, the child’s other parent, a prosecuting attorney, or even a guardian on behalf of the child.
The reasons for petitions for termination include egregious wrongdoing by the parent or parents whose rights are to be terminated. These can include abandonment of the child, neglect, serious physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe injury, or even manslaughter or attempted murder. It could also involve failure to support the child for an extended period of time.
In addition, if any of these actions have been inflicted on a sibling, or if parental rights to a sibling have already been taken away for any of those reasons, that would also qualify as a reason for termination of parental rights. In addition, the above wrongdoings are crimes in Michigan, which means that the parent would likely also be prosecuted for those crimes.
Once the case goes to trial, generally in a juvenile or probate court, the judge has the responsibility to ensure that the accusations are not just from hearsay evidence but hold up under investigation as clear and convincing evidence. The judge also must keep the best interest of the child or the children in mind at all times.
If the parental rights have been terminated, there is a short window of time during which an appeal can be filed. This window is just 21 days, so you would need an attorney experienced in cases where parental rights are being terminated, and you need to act right away. Some judgments have been reversed in the past, for example when it was found that the Department of Human Services did not make enough of an effort to reunite the child with the parent.
Once the window to file an appeal has closed after the parental rights have been terminated, they cannot be re-established. The child will be cared for by the state or a suitable guardian.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights in Michigan
In addition to involuntary termination of parental rights, there is also the option of voluntary termination. This is a very different process and can be an option in several situations. It is important to note that this process is very different from not getting custody.
For example, voluntary termination is an option if the parents are unable or unwilling to care for their child, and especially if a relative or step parent is ready to adopt the child. In fact, it happens most often when someone is ready to adopt.
There are two ways for terminating the rights voluntarily: with consent or by contest. In a situation where one parent has basically abandoned the child and has not provided any financial support for at least two years, their rights can be contested in court.
Speaking of financial support, however, be sure to note that termination would not free you from any obligation to provide child support. That would be an entirely different process.
Once again, though, it’s important to realize that this action cannot be reversed, and that the parent will not have access to the child without permission of the adoptive parent.
It is still important to have an experienced family law attorney at your side as you go through that process. The laws can be complex, and you cannot afford making any mistakes in a process that cannot be reversed.
What You Should Know
As you can see, termination of parental rights is a serious matter, and once it has been completed and the period in which to appeal has passed, it cannot be reversed. The courts acknowledge the gravity of the situation and generally give the parents every opportunity to prove that the are fit parents before making their decision.
However, if you find yourself in a situation where your parental rights are at risk of being terminated, be sure to talk to an experienced attorney right away to get the help that you need. We have the experience to help you. Call or email us for a free consultation and we will be happy to talk to you.