Not every person who procreates is fit to be a parent. When a parent is abusive or neglectful to his or her children, the state can get involved and can terminate that person’s parental rights. If you are seeking to terminate a person’s parental rights on an involuntary basis, you should be aware of how the process works and what you will need to prove to the judge.
In Washington State, terminations of parental rights occur in the juvenile court system, and start with an accusation of abuse or neglect. When a person informs the authorities that a child may be in danger, Child Protective Services will assess the danger to that child and decide if he or she should be picked up and put into protective care.
Once the child is in protective care, the juvenile court will hold a shelter care hearing that will determine where the child should stay while the proceedings are pending. This decision can be reviewed during a later fact-finding hearing. During the fact-finding hearing, the judge will review recommendations from Child Protective Services, as well as testimony from the child’s parent or guardian.
If the court finds that the child is a dependent in need of care, then the judge will order the Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to come up with an Individual Service and Safety Plan. This plan aims to reunite parents and children by providing parenting classes and other services that can correct harmful or negligent parenting behaviors.
After this, the court will schedule dependency review hearings on a regular basis to check on the parent’s progress and the child’s wellbeing.
Once the child has been out of the home for at least 15 out of the past 22 months, the court must begin termination proceedings. The judge also has the option to begin termination proceedings whenever anyone involved in the case files a termination petition.
A judge can terminate a person’s parental rights in one of three ways. First, the court may begin termination hearings relatively quickly if the court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that the child has been abandoned. Usually, this type of termination happens when the child’s parent(s) are unknown and cannot be located.
Second, the court can order termination if the parent has been convicted of one of several crimes. These crimes include first and second degree murder, child abuse, rape, and incest. In these situations, the court will not attempt to reunite the parent and child, and will usually begin termination proceedings immediately.
If neither of those circumstances apply, the court can only terminate a person’s parental rights if there is clear and convincing evidence that the following conditions apply:
- The child is found to be a dependent in need of care,
- The child was removed from the home for at least six months,
- The state has offered all types of help or services available,
- There is little likelihood that the conditions which caused the child to be removed from the home can be remedied, and
- A continued parent-child relationship is harmful to the child’s wellbeing.
Because parental rights are so important, the judge will not terminate a person’s parental rights if there is hope that harmful parenting behaviors can be corrected.
Protecting Your Children
Petitioning to terminate a person’s parental rights is a serious decision that should not be taken lightly. However, when a child is being abused or neglected by a parent, protecting that child is of the utmost importance.
If you believe that your child is being harmed by his or her parent, you have the right to take action. By contacting an attorney experienced in family law and child custody matters, you can make sure that your child’s contact with an abusive parent is limited or cut off entirely. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we can help you make a decision about your options, and will work to keep your children safe.
To schedule your consultation, contact Pacific Northwest Family Law today by calling 509-572-3700.