Removing Parental Rights
Removing parental rights typically is considered as a last resort to protect children. However, removal of a parent’s rights can occur in a number of different circumstances, including:
- When the state determines that a child is in an unsafe situation or is subject to neglect or abandonment in the family home, after reasonable efforts to work with the parents.
- When one parent demonstrates to the court that the other parent’s rights should be terminated due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
- When a parent is convicted of a violent felony.
In addition, termination of rights may be voluntary, such as when a child is being adopted and a biological parent agrees to the termination.
Involuntary Termination or Removing Parental Rights by the State
In Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families is charged with “permanency planning” to ensure that children live with stable, caring, and permanent families. The state’s goal is to keep children with their biological families if possible. However, if the risk to a child from her family is high and the possibility of keeping the family together is low, the state — working with the family — develops an alternative child custody arrangement. Alternatives may include adoption, guardianship, permanent placement with other family members or placement in a foster situation.
After a year, the court reviews the child’s situation and may initiate removing parental rights within 15 months after the child is placed as part of a state-initiated permanency plan.
At every step along the way of terminating parental rights, the state documents all activities related to case management and decisions about a child’s welfare. The state is expected to take reasonable actions to keep families together before taking action for alternative placement, and those efforts must be documented in meticulous records. If you’re involved in a case in which you’re trying to remove parental rights, a qualified family law attorney can assist you.
Violent Felonies and Removing Parental Rights
Massachusetts law does not restrict parental rights from men who father children in the course of raping a woman; in fact, alleged or convicted rapists may petition the court for visitation privileges and even custody.
However, conviction of a violent felony can serve as grounds for removing parental rights, particularly if the individual is sentenced to prison or if the felony involved a family member. Judges review individual circumstances of families before making such determinations, with the focus on protecting the child’s welfare.
In Massachusetts, the court can terminate a parent’s rights if the parent has been found guilty of a felony that the court believes will deprive a child of a stable home for a number of years.
Reasonable Efforts to Work with Families
In some cases, “reasonable efforts” may not be required by the state in working with a family to keep a child in the home or to reunite the family if a child has been removed from the home.
The Department of Children and Families is required to make reasonable efforts to work with the family unless a court determines that such efforts are not necessary, and this exception typically applies only to four types of situations:
- Abandonment of a child without anyone responsible for his or her care. A brief absence does not amount to abandonment. When a child is abandoned, the state is not required to work with the family to achieve reunification, but the state is required to document efforts to locate the child’s caregivers.
- A previous involuntary termination of a parent’s rights involving another child, either in Massachusetts or in another state. In such a case, the parent did not dispute the termination, or the parent lost the case in a court trial. The court may consider the amount of time that has passed since a prior involuntary termination along with the parent’s age and other circumstances at the time of the termination of rights.
- A criminal conviction relating to the serious injury of another child of the parent. A serious injury includes murder or voluntary manslaughter, aiding another individual in the commission or murder or voluntary manslaughter, or felony assault that resulted in serious injuries to one of the parent’s children.
- Aggravating circumstances, such as the murder of a child’s other parent with the child present, sexual abuse or physical or emotional abuse.
In emergency cases, such as those involving serious abuse or neglect, the state may take a child into custody immediately.
Consult with Qualified Family Law Attorneys
If you are involved in a situation in which removing parental rights has become necessary, you need assistance from experienced family law attorneys. Contact Infinity Law Group for a free consultation.