Termination of parental rights is a subject that causes a great deal of confusion and fear for many Michigan parents, and rightly so. Having your parental rights permanently terminated is a terrifying concept, and should be taken very seriously. However, while the fear is completely understandable, the confusion is actually easy to deal with. In order to address some of the common misconceptions parents have about termination of parental rights, we have put together this basic overview of the process and what it would mean for you.
Termination of parental rights means the complete and total severance of the parent-child relationship. It is absolute and permanent. A parent loses not just the right to care for and raise their child, but the right to maintain a relationship or have any contact with their child, without prior permission. Essentially, in the eyes of the law, they are no longer your child and you are no longer their parent.
In most cases, the abuse or neglect allegations that would lead CPS to petition the court to terminate a parent’s rights are very serious, and may also result in criminal charges against the parent. However, while the criminal charges are important and must be handled with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, a petition to terminate parental rights is a separate matter that is handled in family court.
There are two types of parental rights termination – voluntary and involuntary. They are as follows:
Voluntary termination is where either one or both of a child’s parents choose to give up their parental rights. An example of this would be a mother who wishes to give her baby up for adoption because she is unwilling or unable to care for the child.
Involuntary termination can happen without the consent of either parent, and is usually sought when authorities believe that the parent is unfit or unable to care for their child. If CPS agents believe that a child has been severely abused or neglected, or is in danger of severe abuse or neglect, the Family Court may be asked to terminate the parent’s rights. This would be an involuntary termination.
Before this can happen, however, the court must conduct a trial to determine if the child is actually in danger. Usually, after a termination petition has been filed against a parent, their parenting time is automatically suspended until the court makes a decision. During the trial, the court will only consider “competent evidence”, which means that the Michigan Rules of Evidence will apply. These rules state that hearsay evidence is not admitted and it’s up to the prosecutor to prove neglect or abuse by “clear and convincing” evidence.
A termination trial has two steps. The first step is where the court decides if there are grounds for termination. In the second step, the court determines whether it is in the best interest of the child to terminate. For this second step, courts generally approach the question in a similar manner that would be used when deciding the best interest of the child in a custody case.
After a trial, if the court believes by “clear and convincing evidence” that the parent is unfit or unable to care for the child and it is in the best interests of the child to sever the parent-child relationship, the court will order the termination of the parent’s rights. The child will then be put into the temporary or permanent custody of the court, which means that the state assumes legal custody of the child until a new guardian can be found.
We understand that this is a very hard topic to read about, and that most parents do not want to think about the possibility of their children being removed by the state. However, as experienced abuse and neglect defense attorneys, we handle parental termination cases on a regular basis, and we understand how easy it is for the state to step in and assume they know best. So if you or a loved one are being threatened by CPS, or an agency worker has accused you or abuse or neglect, contact us immediately at 866 766 5245. We can help you!