In Georgia, as in other states, the law favors keeping families intact and keeping children with their parents. The termination of a parent’s rights permanently severs the parent-child relationship, so the law treats these proceedings very seriously. A parent’s rights may be terminated in Georgia only for certain reasons, and only if the procedures laid out in the statute are followed.
Procedure and Notice Requirements
A proceeding to terminate a parent’s rights begins when someone with “knowledge of the facts” (such as another family member) files a petition for the termination of parental rights. In Georgia, the petition is brought in juvenile court. In fact, juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over termination proceedings except in the case of adoption, for which the Superior Court shares concurrent jurisdiction. Because of the sensitive nature of termination proceedings, the petition must be verified and endorsed by the juvenile court before it is filed.
Once a petition for termination of parental rights is filed, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the child. Unlike in most civil proceedings, the court will also appoint an attorney for the parents if they can show they are indigent. Georgia law recognizes the gravity of terminating parental rights, and making sure everyone is represented by counsel helps the court ensure that all of the relevant facts are raised.
The petition must served (delivered) on the parents. If a parent fails to respond to the petition or appear in court, the court may take the child into protective custody.
A hearing must be scheduled within 90 days after the petition is filed. The hearing is conducted without a jury; it is up to a judge alone to determine whether to grant or deny a petition to terminate parental rights in Georgia.
When addressing whether parental rights should be terminated involuntarily, most States require that a court:
• Determine, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent is unfit
• Determine whether severing the parent-child relationship is in the child’s best interests
The grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights are specific circumstances under which the child cannot safely be returned home because of risk of harm by the parent or the inability of the parent to provide for the child’s basic needs. Each state is responsible for establishing its own statutory grounds, and these vary by State.
Common statutory grounds for determining parental unfitness include:
• Severe or chronic abuse or neglect
• Sexual abuse
• Abuse or neglect of other children in the household
• Abandonment of the child
• Long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent(s)
• Long-term alcohol- or drug-induced incapacity of the parent(s)
• Failure to support or maintain contact with the child
• Involuntary termination of the rights of the parent to another Child
The above factors become grounds for terminating parental rights when sensible efforts by the State to prevent out of-home placement or to achieve family reunification after placement have failed to correct the conditions and/or parental behaviors that led to State intervention.
When Parental Rights May Be Reinstated
A termination action can sever the rights of one parent without affecting the rights of the other parent. If the rights of both parents are terminated, the State assumes legal custody of the child along with the responsibility for finalizing a permanent placement for the child, either through adoption or guardianship, within a reasonable amount of time. In approximately 13 States, if a permanent placement has not been achieved within a specific timeframe, a petition may be filed with the court requesting reinstatement of the parent’s.
There are certainly situations in which termination is appropriate and warranted and courts will respond in those situations. However, in other scenarios, it is very likely the court will not grant the termination that is being sought. In the eyes of the court, a parent and child have a connection that should not be severed without a very good reason. Unfortunately, there are times when courts will grant terminations if both parties agree – the father to get out of child support and the mother to get him out of her life.
Parental termination is not something that should be considered lightly or without extreme circumstances. Please contact our firm to see how we can advise you.