Family Law Acronyms: TPR, Termination of Parental Rights

TPR, Termination of Parental Rights

As they should, South Carolina’s Family Courts approach the issue of terminating a parent’s rights with great attention to detail and with great effort to keep the family unit intact.

Family Courts address TPR differently depending on whether TPR is voluntary or involuntary.  Voluntary giving up of a parent’s rights for the purpose of adoption is referred to as relinquishment and is addressed in Sections 63-9-10 through 360 of the South Carolina Code of Laws (2008).  Per Section 63-30(8) of the South Carolina Code of Laws (2008), relinquishment means “the informed and voluntary release in writing of all parental rights with respect to a child by a parent to a child placing agency or to a person who facilitates the placement of a child for the purpose of adoption and to whom the parent has given the right to consent to the adoption of the child”.  The statutes address the detailed process by which relinquishment is accomplished, including the persons necessary to give consent or relinquishment for purposes of adoption, the information and circumstances required to complete the relinquishment process, and the effects of relinquishment.  A parent seeking to relinquish his/her parental rights for purposes of adoption should be advised of his/her rights by an attorney not representing the adopting parties.

What’s the effect of relinquishment?  When a parent relinquishes his/her parental rights for the purpose of adoption, the relinquishment can only be withdrawn by the Family Court where the court finds it in the best interests of the child and that the consent or relinquishment was not given voluntarily or was obtained under duress or through coercion.  Child support obligations end upon relinquishment, but arrearages are not forgiven and the parent can still be held responsible for the arrearages owed.  The right of inheritance is severed only upon the final decree of adoption.  Once the final decree of adoption is entered, the consent or relinquishment is irrevocable and severs all rights between the parent and child.

Where the issue is involuntary TPR, the Family Court is required to find by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of parental rights serves the best interests of the child and there are proper grounds for terminating the parent-child relationship.  The South Carolina legislature addresses the termination of parental rights in Sections 63-7-2510 through 2620 of the South Carolina Code of Laws (2008).  Grounds for termination include:

  • The child has been harmed, and the current home cannot be made safe within the next twelve (12) months;
  • The child (a) has been removed from the parent and taken into emergency protective custody, (b) has been out of the home for six (6) months following the adoption of a placement plan, and (c) the parent has not fixed the conditions for which the child was originally removed;
  • The child has lived outside of the home for a period of six (6) months and, during that period, the parent willfully failed to visit the child;
  • The child has lived outside of the home for a period of six (6) months, and either parent has failed to support the child;
  • The child has been in foster care under the responsibility of the state for fifteen (15) of the last twenty-two (22) months;
  • The parent has a diagnosable condition–such as alcoholism or drug abuse–that is unlikely to change within a reasonable time, and the condition makes the parent unlikely to provide minimally acceptable care for the child;
  • The presumptive legal father is not the biological father of the child, and the welfare of the child can best be served by termination of the parental rights of the presumptive legal father;
  • The parent has willfully abandoned or surrendered physical possession of the child without making adequate arrangements for the child’s needs and care;
  • The child has been physically abused, and the parent pleaded guilty to at least a part of the abuse;
  • The child was conceived as a result of criminal sexual conduct;
  • A parent of the child pleads guilty or nolo contendere to or is convicted of the murder of the child’s other parent.

A private party or the Department of Social Services (DSS) can seek to enter a petition for TPR.  Where DSS enters a petition for TPR, at the same time, it initiates the adoption process for the child if an adoptive family has not already been found or approved.  Also, the Family Court will appoint a Guardian ad litem to further facilitate the goal of protecting the best interests of the child.

What’s the effect of TPR?  An order terminating the relationship between parent and child forever severs the parent and child’s relationship.  The parent and child have no legal rights, powers, privileges, immunities, duties, and obligations with respect to each other, except the right of the child to inherit from the parent. The child’s right to inheritance is terminated only by a final decree of adoption. Also, the TPR of one parent does not affect the relationship between the child and the other parent whose rights have not been terminated.

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