A parent’s right to direct the care, custody, and control of his or her children, to the exclusion of all other persons, is a fundamental and constitutionally protected civil right. But, as with all rights, parental rights come with responsibilities. And, a parent’s failure to meet the responsibilities of providing for the care, custody, and control of his or her child can result in that parent losing his or her rights to the child, a termination of parental rights.
Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights
In North Carolina, there are several grounds on which a parent’s rights may be terminated, which include:
- Abuse of the child or another child in the home
- Abandonment of the child
- Neglect (failure to provide proper supervision or discipline)
- Failure to provide Child Support or to otherwise abide by a Custody or Support Order.
Adoptions and Custody Disputes
Often proceedings for the termination of parental rights occur in the context of an adoption where one or both parents have consented to the adoption of the child. But, a termination of parental rights may also arise between two parents in a custody dispute where one parent alleges that the other has failed to pay child support or otherwise withheld his or her care, love, and affection from the child.
For an unwed father, the danger of his parental rights being terminated in the context of an adoption is particularly troubling as the father may not receive notice that his child is being placed for adoption until it is too late to stop the process. In a troubling case recently decided by the NC Supreme Court, a biological father lost the right to object to the adoption of his child when his former girlfriend failed to inform him that she had become pregnant and she provided false information to the adoption agency regarding the father’s identity. The Supreme Court concluded that despite the mother’s deception, the fact that father had intercourse with a woman whom he knew to be fertile and that he merely assumed the woman’s birth control was effective put the father on notice that he may have impregnated the mother. Since the father never asked the mother whether she had, in fact, become pregnant, by the time he learned of the child’s birth six months later, the father lost his right to object to the adoption of his child by another couple. In re Adoption of S.D.W., __ N.C. __, 758 S.E.2d 374 (2014).
The Effect of Losing Your Parental Rights
The effect of a parent losing his or her parental rights is permanent and complete. The statutory law in North Carolina provides that: “An order terminating the parental rights completely and permanently terminates all rights and obligations of the parent to the juvenile . . . .” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1112.
A Stranger in the Eyes of the Law
Effectively, a parent whose rights to his or her child are terminated becomes a legal stranger to the child. And, generally speaking, once a parent’s rights are terminated, the parent has no right to re-establish custody or visitation with their child at a later time—regardless of any change in circumstances in the parent’s life.
In NC, grandparents have a right under the law to seek visitation with their grandchildren. But, if a parent’s rights have been terminated, that parent’s parents (the child’s grandparents) will also lose their right to seek visitation with the child.
A termination of parental rights is a drastic measure intended to promote the best interest of the child when necessary, such as for adoptions or certain custody disputes. But, as shown above, unwed fathers and grandparents can unwittingly find themselves forever cut out of the lives of their children or grandchildren if prompt and appropriate legal action is not taken to assert their rights.
For more information about protecting your parental rights please contact one of our family law attorneys.