Termination of Parental Rights

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

What is termination of parental rights?
Termination of parental rights is when a court issues an order that permanently ends all legal, social, and financial responsibility between a child and his/her parents. The parents have no rights to custody or visitation of the child. The parents also have no duty to support the child anymore (although the parents might have to pay past due child support).

Who can terminate the parent-child relationship?
In Kentucky, only a court can order the termination of the parent-child relationship. In a case, the parents can agree to the termination of their parental rights, or the court can order it even if the parents don't agree.

When can a termination of parental rights proceeding happen?
The county office of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services can file a petition to terminate parental rights. This is usually done only after the Cabinet has made efforts to reunite the child and the parents in the case.

When will the court order a termination of parental rights?
In order to get a termination of parental rights in a case where the parents don't consent to the termination, the Court must find (basically) that the child has been abused or neglected by the parent or parents, that the parent(s) are not going to be able to improve quickly enough to be able to be good parents to the child and that the termination of the parental rights is in the best interest of the child.

What rights does a parent have in a termination proceeding?
The parent has the right to be represented by an attorney. The court will appoint an attorney for the parent if the parent cannot afford to hire an attorney. Fill out this form (PDF file, 200 KB) to request the appointment of an attorney if you can't afford one.

The parent also has the right to argue against termination of parental rights. If the parent disagrees with the termination, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) or court appointed special advocate (CASA) to represent and protect the child's best interests. The GAL or CASA will research and investigate the child's case, and often will testify concerning the child's best interests and the child's wishes.

What effect can a parent's criminal convictions have on the termination proceedings?
If a parent has criminal convictions relating to the physical or sexual abuse or neglect of any child, that information will be considered by the court when it decides whether or not to terminate a parent's rights to a child.

What happens if the court decides to dismiss the petition for termination of parental rights?
If, after hearing all of the witnesses and evidence, the court decides to dismiss the termination petition, the court will also decide whether the child will be returned to the parent or continue (at least temporarily) to remain in the custody of the state and continue in foster care or another out of home placement. The parents will still have the right to ask for custody or visitation, and will still have the obligation to support the child.

What happens if the court grants the petition for termination of parental rights?
If the court grants the petition, the parent-child relationship is ended and the parent loses all rights and obligations concerning the child. The parent's obligation to pay future child support also ends, but any past-due child support must still be paid. The county office of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services must have some plan for permanent placement of the child.

My ex-husband says he wants to terminate his parental rights. Can he do this?
No. Generally, a parent cannot file for termination of parental rights. The only exception would be if you are re-married and your new husband wants to adopt your child. Then your ex-husband could consent to the adoption, thus terminating his parental rights, so your new husband could adopt the child. However, be aware that if your new husband adopts your child, he will then continue to have legal rights to the child until the child becomes an adult, even if the two of you should later get divorced.

Reviewed August 2009