Parents usually want the best for their child, and will do what is necessary to give their child the best opportunity to succeed. So, if you receive a knock at the door that winds up being investigators from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) about allegations of child abuse or neglect, it would be easy to understand how such an event could turn your world upside down. The removal of your children and investigation into all aspects of your life as part of a dependency case can be devastating, but the real danger lies in whether the court decides to terminate your parental rights and permanently place your child with another family. There are many reasons a court might decide to terminate parental rights, and an article in the Sun Sentinel provides one example of behavior that could prompt this result. A father from Broward County lost his parental rights based on conduct an appeals court labeled “egregious” when he failed to administer medication to his HIV-positive daughter, and she contracted full-blown AIDS as a result. Certainly, an absence of medical care doctors feels is necessary will gets the court’s attention in a dependency action, but it does not automatically mean parental rights will be lost.Who can Request Termination and the Parents’ Rights
Petitions for the termination of parental rights are typically filed by the DCF or the guardian ad litem (a court-appointed advocate for the child). However, anyone with knowledge of the facts in the case and reason to believe they are true are also permitted to file this type of petition. If a parent who receives notice of a petition to terminate parental rights fails to appear at any hearing related to the petition, that is considered consent to the termination and those rights will be lost. Further, as with all other hearings in a dependency case, a parent is entitled to have counsel present at every hearing they attend, and they must be also notified about the possibility of adoption of the child through a state agency if a judge grants the petition. It is worth noting that DCF is not required to offer parents a reunification plan before asking the court to terminate the parents’ rights, so having an attorney as early in the dependency process as possible is essential to having the best opportunity to retain your rights as parents.Grounds for Termination
Florida law provides an extensive list of reasons why a court may terminate parental rights. Some of these include:
- abandonment, which legally means a parent fails to establish a substantial and meaningful relationship with the child through regular contact, or the parent cannot be located within 60 days of initiating a search;
- conduct by a parent that endangers the physical, mental or emotional well-being of the child that cannot be remedied by the provision of social services to help the family;
- failure of a parent to comply with the case plan 12 months after the child was declared a dependent of the state or placed in a shelter, whichever occurs first. This failure is considered continuing abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child; or
- a parent has an alcohol or substance abuse problem that renders them unable to care for the child and the parent failed to complete treatment in the three years before the petition was filed.
Time is of the essence in dependency cases as the longer your child is away from you, the more lasting psychological damage is likely to occur. The dependency process has many steps and aspects to it that requires representation by an attorney experienced in this area to give you the best chance to reunite your family. Stok Kon + Braverman, located in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach, has experience representing clients before and after parental rights were lost. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.