Termination of Parental Rights in South Carolina
Parents have important rights that are not easy to terminate. Nonetheless, termination sometimes happens voluntarily, or the state takes it upon itself to seek termination. At Surasky Law Firm, we have worked with many parents facing termination. You have due process protections whenever the state tries to terminate your rights, including the right to an attorney in most cases. Let us help advise you of your rights and represent you in the legal process. Below, we answer some of the most common questions related to this topic.
Who Seeks to Terminate Parental Rights in South Carolina?
In most cases, the custodial parent seeks to terminate the other parent’s rights, or the Department of Social Services (DSS) seeks termination. This is a judicial process, and the parent whose rights are subject to termination has the right to appear in court and fight the termination.
What Happens if My Rights are Terminated?
Parental rights include the right to see and spend time with your child. Of course, if you are divorced, a judge might have limited the time you spend with your child in the parenting plan. If you have a history of neglect or abuse, your visitation might be supervised. Still, you have the rights to see the child that a non-parent would not have. When those rights are terminated, you have no legal standing to demand to see your child.
Parental rights also come with obligations—principally, the obligation to financially support your child. In most cases, once your rights are terminated, your obligations are terminated also.
Can I Terminate My Own Parental Rights Over Objection From the Other Parent?
No. We get this question a lot. You can’t terminate your parental rights without the consent of the other parent. Some parents hope to do this to stop paying child support. Unfortunately, the state will not let you get out from under financial responsibility in this way.
Can My Ex Agree to Terminate My Parental Rights?
Yes, this is possible. We see this happen most often when the custodial parent wants to get married and have their new spouse adopt the child. In that situation, it makes sense for the non-custodial parent to give up their parental rights voluntarily. There is another adult waiting in the wings to adopt the child.
Nonetheless, we encourage parents to approach this issue carefully. A judge will not agree to termination if they think the non-custodial parent is being coerced or unduly influenced. Work with an attorney to document the reasons for the termination.
Can a Parent Seek to Terminate The Other Parent’s Rights Without Agreement?
Yes. But you will need to identify a valid reason for doing so. Section 63-7-2570 of the South Carolina Code identifies 11 valid grounds for termination. Here are six of the most common:
· The child has suffered neglect or abuse, and the home can’t be made safe in a year;
· The child has been removed from the home for at least 6 months, and the parent hasn’t remedied the reason for the removal;
· The child has lived outside the home for six months and the parent has willfully failed to visit them;
· The child has lived outside the home for 6 months and the parent has willfully failed to support them;
· A child has been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months; or
· The parent has abandoned the child.
Furthermore, a judge must find that termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. A judge will carefully consider all relevant factors, including how well the child is flourishing in their new home. In our experience, judges do not terminate parental rights lightly.
It’s also important to recognize that you can’t have created the reason for termination. For example, you can’t refuse the other parent visitation with the child and then claim the child has been abandoned. Similarly, you can’t hide the child and then seek to terminate the other parent’s rights on the ground that they haven’t visited in 6 months.
Can an Incarcerated Parent Lose Their Parental Rights?
A judge is unlikely to terminate your rights because you are in jail. Obviously, it is hard to visit a child if you are behind bars. The law requires that you “willfully” fail to financially support or visit your child—essentially, that you intentionally failed to see or support them. Being put behind bars against your will is not proof of a willful failure to act as a parent.
Of course, every case has unique circumstances. You should consult an attorney to review how incarceration is impacting your rights.
Will My Child Be Adopted if My Rights are Terminated?
That sometimes happens, but not always. It really depends on many factors, such as your child’s age and who is fostering your child.
Can I Agree to Termination and Still See My Child?
When your child reaches adulthood, they can see whoever they want. But if your child is a minor, you have no legally-enforceable right to see them once your parental rights are terminated. That’s why you should always consult an attorney before agreeing to give up your rights voluntarily.
Also be careful if the custodial parent asks you to voluntarily give up your rights in exchange for continued visitation. That type of verbal agreement doesn’t hold up in court.
What Happens to My Child Support Obligation if my Rights Are Terminated?
You will not have to pay child support going forward. But any unpaid support (arrearages) that have accrued are still valid. You need to pay them unless the custodial parent agrees to waive the amount.
Contact Our Aiken, SC Family Law Attorney with Questions
This is a sensitive area of law. Many parents are shocked when they receive notice from DSS telling them that the agency is seeking termination of their rights. You should quickly call an experienced lawyer at Surasky Law to review the facts. There might still be time to remediate the reason the state removed your child, and we can also represent you in court.