Termination of parental rights is one of the most serious proceeding in family law. It is sometimes referred to as the "death penalty" of family law because of the serious effect the court’s decision has on the parent-child relationship. Indeed, all of the rights that exist by virtue of that relationship hang in the balance. Because so much is at stake, the legislature and the courts have reserved termination of parental rights for the most heinous parental misconduct, or where a parent knowingly and voluntarily has agreed to relinquish her or his parental rights. Termination of parental rights is most often sought in the context where a parent has abandoned, abused, failed to support, or neglected a child, or where a parent has voluntarily cut-off a relationship with a child and a stepparent has a desire to adopt the child. Where a parent has demonstrated over time that he or she will not provide the degree of care and support that will promote the healthy and orderly physical and emotional well-being of a child, it is generally in the best interests of the child for someone on the child’s behalf to employ the procedure for terminating the legal relationship between that parent and the child. Hopefully, termination of parental rights will be the first step in the process of providing a healthy and orderly plan of care for the child. In many cases, a plan of care is usually established through foster parents or adoption. Once a termination of parental rights order has been entered, the former parent has no legal rights to direct or control the child’s future in any way.
In North Carolina there are ten statutorily established grounds for termination of parental rights. The court may terminate the parental rights upon a finding of one or more of the following: