Termination of a Parent’s Rights in Tennessee

In the United States, we have well-established laws that are designed to protect a biological parent’s right to raise their child with minimal government intrusion. However, it’s vital to note that our laws prioritize the best interest of the child above a parent’s right to bring up their child as they see fit and, therefore, allow a parent’s legal rights to be terminated under some circumstances.

More specifically, Tennessee law allows a parent’s rights to be terminated if: (1) the grounds for termination have been established by clear and convincing evidence, and (2) terminating the parent’s rights is in the best interest of the child. Tennessee Code section 36-1-113.

This area of the law can be a bit confusing, so we have answered some frequently asked questions about terminating a parent’s rights to help shed some light on this complicated topic. However, please keep in mind that the answers provided below only apply in Tennessee, as each state takes a slightly different approach to terminating parental rights, and that for case-specific questions it is essential that you consult directly with a local family law attorney.

What does it mean to terminate a parent’s rights?

When a parent’s rights to a child are terminated, the legal relationship between the parent and child is ended. This termination can take place either voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, a parent can voluntarily terminate their parental rights and give their child up for adoption. On the other hand, the court can determine that a parent is unfit to parent a child and involuntarily terminate the parent’s legal rights.

On what grounds can a parent’s rights be involuntarily terminated?

In Tennessee, termination of a parent’s rights can be based on any of the following grounds:

  • Abandonment,
  • Substantial noncompliance with the statement of responsibility in a permanency plan or a plan of care,
  • The child has been removed from the parent’s house via a court order for a period of at least six months and (a) conditions that would subject the child to further abuse or neglect are still present, (b) there is little chance that these conditions will be remedied in the near future, and (c) continuing the child’s relationship with the parent significantly diminishes the child’s chance of being integrated into a stable, permanent, and safe home in the near future,
  • The parent committed severe child abuse against the child in question, a sibling or half-sibling of the child, or any other child residing in the parent’s home,
  • The parent has been sentenced to serve two or more years in prison for conduct committed against the child in question, a sibling or half-sibling of the child, or any other child residing in the parent’s home,
  • The parent has been confined in a detention facility serving a sentence of 10 or more years, and the child is under eight years old when the sentence is imposed,
  • The parent has been convicted (or found civilly liable) of the intentional and wrongful death of the child’s other parent (or legal guardian),
  • The parent is mentally incompetent to care for and supervise the child,
  • The child was conceived out of a rape for which the parent was convicted

It’s crucial to note that this list is not exhaustive and that under some circumstances there are additional grounds on which a Tennessee court can terminate a parent’s rights. However, the grounds for termination listed above and the most frequently cited in Tennessee.

What constitutes child abandonment?

When most people hear the term child abandonment, they think of a parent dropping their baby off on someone’s front stoop and physically leaving the child. While the legal definition of child abandonment in Tennessee does encompass this type of physical abandonment, you may be surprised to learn that it also includes other forms as well.

For example, a parent who willfully fails to visit their child or make reasonable child support payments will sometimes be deemed to have legally abandoned their child. For the precise legal definition of abandonment under Tennessee law check out code section 36-1-102.

How does the court determine whether terminating a parent’s rights is “in the best interest of the child”?

When a Tennessee court is determining whether or not terminating a parent’s rights would be in the best interest of the child, it considers whether:

  • The parent has made adjustments (and whether these adjustments appear to be lasting) to make their home safe for the child,
  • The parent regularly visited or made contact with the child,
  • A meaningful relationship exists between the parent and the child,
  • A change of caretakers and environment would likely harm the child,
  • The parent (or someone living with them) has been neglectful or abusive towards the child or another family or household member,
  • The parent’s home is healthy and safe,
  • The parent’s emotional and/or mental status would be detrimental to the child, and
  • The parent has paid any child support that they are legally required to provide.

Alongside the considerations listed above, the court can also weigh other pertinent information when determining whether or not terminating the parent’s rights would be in the child’s best interest.

Additional Questions? Contact Us Today

Shannon A. Jones, Attorney at Law, offers legal support for families in Memphis, Tennessee, and the surrounding area. If you have questions concerning the termination of a parent’s rights, legally adopting a child, or any other family law matter, our team will be happy to assist you.

Every client’s situation is unique, so to give the best legal advice possible, we like to first meet with a potential new client during a confidential consultation. During this face-to-face meeting, we will review the facts of your specific case and explain what your legal rights and options are given the circumstances. To schedule an appointment, give our Memphis office a call today at (901) 562-3605.

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