Checklist: Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights

The phrase "termination of parental rights" can be the most frightening words a parent can hear. Fears of losing a child to "the system" can push a parent to work on his or her situation for the child. However, to some, termination brings relief, as the parent knows that he or she can't provide for the child but may have been unable to reach out for help. Some parents voluntarily terminate their parental interest as they feel it’s best for the child.

The parental rights termination procedure is perhaps one of the strongest legal mechanisms available to protect children in need. In many cases, a termination proceeding is a necessary precursor to the adoption of the child. In some states and cases, it's possible to reinstate parental rights after termination or consenting to adoption.

The exact grounds for parental rights termination vary from state to state. The following list summarizes the major grounds for terminating a parent's rights to his or her child:

  • Severe or chronic physical abuse of the child
  • Any sexual abuse of the child
  • Severe psychological abuse or torture of the child
  • Extreme emotional damage to the child inflicted by the parent
  • Child neglect by failing to provide shelter, food, or other needed care as is required by parental obligations
  • Abuse or neglect of other children in the same household
  • Abandonment of the child or extreme parental disinterest
  • Long-term mental illness of the parent
  • Long-term alcohol or drug induced incapacity of the parent
  • Failure to support the child
  • Failure to maintain contact with the child
  • Failure to provide education
  • Felony conviction of the parent for a violent crime against the child or another family member
  • Felony conviction of the parent when the term of imprisonment is long enough to negatively impact the child and the only other source of care for the child is foster care
  • The child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, and the parent is still not ready for reunification.
  • Failure of reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family
  • Failure of the parent to comply with a court ordered plan
  • The child would be at risk if returned to the parent's home.
  • Risk of substantial harm to the child
  • Inducing the child to commit a crime or crimes
  • Unreasonable withholding of consent to adoption by the non-custodial parent
  • The child's need for continuity and care
  • The identity or location of the father is unknown after a reasonable attempt to determine or find him
  • The child was conceived as a result of rape or incest
  • The putative or presumptive father is not the child's biological father
  • A newborn child is addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • Giving birth to three or more drug affected infants
  • Other egregious conduct or heinous or abhorrent behavior by the parent either to the child or others in a way that affects the child
  • The child has developed a strong and healthy relationship with his or her foster or other substitute family
  • The preference of the child
  • Voluntary relinquishment of rights by the parent

Learn More About the Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights: Talk to a Lawyer

Whether it's drugs, alcohol, or physical abuse, if the state is threatening to terminate your parental rights, you should seek legal counsel. While this process can seem terrifying, you don't have to go through it by yourself. Find a qualified, local family law attorney to help guide you through the laws and protect your rights.

Next Steps

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