The Termination of Parental Rights in North Carolina

a father walking daughter to school

To protect a child’s welfare, circumstances may demand that a responsible family member or other guardian petitions the court to terminate the parental rights of a biological or adoptive parent. In some cases, this takes place after a divorce and custody agreement.

Our family law attorneys at Younce, Vtipil & Baznik can assist if you need to file a petition to terminate another parent’s rights for the sake of a child in North Carolina. A court will only grant a termination of parental rights if it is in the best interests of the child. Our knowledgeable family law attorney can help ensure that your presentation to the court demonstrates that granting your request is in the child’s best interest.

We realize that each case involving termination of parental rights is unique based on the specifics of the situation. Whether you are petitioning for termination of parental rights or want to discuss how to fight an adversarial petition seeking termination of parental rights, our family law attorneys at Younce, Vtipil & Baznik have the resources and experience to help you develop the appropriate action.

What is Termination of Parental Rights in North Carolina?

Parents of underage children in North Carolina have certain rights and responsibilities regarding their children. Their responsibilities include maintaining physical custody of the child, caring for the child, providing food and shelter, consenting for medical care and protecting the child from harm. If a court in North Carolina grants a petition for termination of parental rights, the parent or parents named in the petition will no longer have custody of the child or make decisions on behalf of the child.

An involuntary termination of parental rights often follows intervention by the local county Department of Social Services’ Child Protective Services. This agency responds to reports of child abuse or neglect. The agency may petition the court to order removal of the child from the home and termination of parental rights if, after counseling and other efforts, the agency believes the child’s needs are not being met.

A parent who has lost parental rights in a court hearing has no legal right to make parenting decisions, to visit the child or to engage in any form of communication with the child.

Who Can Seek to Terminate a Parent’s Rights?

In addition to a petition initiated by a social services agency, the courts will consider a petition to terminate parental rights in North Carolina if it is filed by:

  • One parent against the child’s other parent
  • The child’s guardian, including such an individual appointed by the court
  • The child’s presumptive adoptive parent(s)
  • A person with whom the child has lived for two consecutive years or more

Reasons to Terminate Parental Rights

Under North Carolina law, termination of parental rights may be granted if a case falls into any of the following circumstances:

  • Parental abuse or neglect of the child
  • Parent’s inability to provide proper care for the child (including an underage mother putting a newborn up for adoption)
  • Willful abandonment of the child by the parent(s)
  • Willfully leaving a child in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without attempting to change the circumstances for placement
  • Unjustified failure of a noncustodial parent to pay child support for one year or more
  • Failure of the father of a child born out of wedlock to claim the child
  • Conviction for a violent crime against a child

If the court rules that a parent is unfit, it may decide it is in the best interest of the child to terminate the unfit parent’s parental rights.

Hearing a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights

Unless the Department of Social Services (DSS) is involved, termination of parental rights requires litigation. A person has a constitutionally protected right to parent his or her child. Therefore, termination of this right is a serious matter. In North Carolina courts, the process is best handled by our experienced family law attorneys.

Hearings are held before a district court judge without a jury. They are informally considered “private” actions (when initiated by one parent against the other, for example) or “agency” actions (when initiated by DSS or a licensed adoption agency).

A proceeding to consider termination of parental rights has two stages: adjudication and disposition. In adjudication, the petitioner has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that one or more statutory grounds exist for termination of parental rights. If the court agrees that one or more grounds have been substantiated, it then determines whether termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

During disposition, there is no burden of proof. The judge will consider additional relevant evidence and make findings of fact. Based on those findings, the court will decide what is in the child’s best interest.

When determining the best interests of a child, a judge will consider:

  • The child’s age
  • The likelihood the child will be adopted
  • The bond between the child and the parent who stands to lose parental rights
  • The quality of the relationship between the child and the proposed adoptive parent, guardian or custodian
  • Whether the termination of parental rights will aid in the accomplishment of the DSS’ permanent plan for the child

If you are the petitioner, you must show the court a plan that you believe to be in the best interest of the child and evidence as to why it is best that the court end the child’s relationship with the other parent.

The court may dismiss the case if the judge finds that grounds for termination do not exist or that the termination of parental rights is not in the child’s best interest.

If the court terminates parental rights and the child is in the custody of the county Department of Social Services or a licensed child-placing agency, post-termination review hearings must be held at least every 6 months to examine progress toward achieving the permanent plan for the child.

A DSS Petition for Termination of Parental Rights

When the N.C. Division of Social Services and/or a local Department of Social Services pursues termination of parental rights, it is typically a serious case, often requiring immediate removal of the children from the home.

The DSS will work to build a case that:

  • Alleges all material facts of the case in the petition
  • Alleges more than one grounds for termination in the petition
  • Creates a narrative of the case through reports, court findings, court orders, etc.
  • Details services offered to the family prior to filing the petition and expectations for parental improvement (or lack thereof) in the near future.

How Our Family Law Attorneys Can Help

If you are petitioning for termination of parental rights, our parental rights attorneys can assist with the legal procedures and represent you at the hearing. We also can assist with contested petitions for termination of parental rights, including ensuring your petition presents clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination. We will present your case and answer the judge’s questions on your behalf at the hearing.

If we represent you as you fight a petition for termination of parental rights, we can help you rebut allegations in the petition and seek dismissal of the petition. We can help gather and present evidence that demonstrates your focus on the child’s well-being, including receipts for spending on the child, evidence of time spent with your child, and school reports and other records indicating your involvement with your child’s education, etc.

The burden of proof when filing a petition for the termination of parental rights is on the petitioner. The petition must convince a judge that legal grounds for approval exist and that such a step is in the best interests of the child.

The experienced North Carolina family law attorneys of Younce, Vtipil & Baznik have a thorough understanding of the procedures and the laws that guide decisions regarding termination of parental rights.

Dedicated Raleigh Parental Rights Attorneys

Dealing with family matters such as the termination of parental rights can be highly charged and emotionally difficult, particularly if it involves negative allegations about one parent. Let our skilled family law attorneys advise you about matters related to changes in your family structure and the potential legal procedures that follow.

We are dedicated to seeking the best interests of you and your child or children. Call us in Raleigh to schedule a consultation with a parental rights lawyer at Younce, Vtipil & Baznik today.