Termination of Parental Rights

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:

  1. The parent has abused or neglected the child. The child shall be deemed to be abused or neglected if the court finds the child to be an abused child or a neglected child;
  2. The parent has willfully left the child in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting those conditions which led to the removal of the child. Provided, however, that no parental rights shall be terminated for the sole reason that the parents are unable to care for the child on account of their poverty;
  3. The child has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services, a licensed child-placing agency, a child-caring institution, or a foster home, and the parent, for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition or motion, has willfully failed for such period to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the child although physically and financially able to do so;
  4. One parent has been awarded custody of the child by judicial decree or has custody by agreement of the parents, and the other parent whose parental rights are sought to be terminated has for a period of one year or more next preceding the filing of the petition or motion willfully failed without justification to pay for the care, support, and education of the child, as required by said decree or custody agreement;
  5. The father of a child born out of wedlock has not, prior to the filing of a petition or motion to terminate parental rights:
    1. Established paternity judicially or by affidavit which has been filed in a central registry maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services; provided, the court shall inquire of the Department of Health and Human Services as to whether such an affidavit has been so filed and shall incorporate into the case record the Department's certified reply; or,
    2. Legitimated the child or filed a petition for this specific purpose; or,
    3. Legitimated the child by marriage to the mother of the child; or,
    4. Provided substantial financial support or consistent care with respect to the child and mother;
  6. That the parent is incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of the child, such that the child is a dependent child, and that there is a reasonable probability that such incapability will continue for the foreseeable future. Incapability under this subdivision may be the result of substance abuse, mental retardation, mental illness, organic brain syndrome, or any other cause or condition that renders the parent unable or unavailable to parent the child and the parent lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement;
  7. The parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the petition or motion, or the parent has voluntarily abandoned an infant for at least 60 consecutive days immediately preceding the filing of the petition or motion;
  8. The parent has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of another child of the parent or other child residing in the home; has aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit murder or voluntary manslaughter of the child, another child of the parent, or other child residing in the home; has committed a felony assault that results in serious bodily injury to the child, another child of the parent, or other child residing in the home; or has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of the other parent of the child. The petitioner has the burden of proving any of these offenses in the termination of parental rights hearing by (i) proving the elements of the offense or (ii) offering proof that a court of competent jurisdiction has convicted the parent of the offense, whether or not the conviction was by way of a jury verdict or any kind of plea. If the parent has committed the murder or voluntary manslaughter of the other parent of the child, the court shall consider whether the murder or voluntary manslaughter was committed in self-defense or in the defense of others, or whether there was substantial evidence of other justification;
  9. The parental rights of the parent with respect to another child of the parent have been terminated involuntarily by a court of competent jurisdiction and the parent lacks the ability or willingness to establish a safe home; and,
  10. Where the child has been relinquished to a county department of social services or a licensed child-placing agency for the purpose of adoption or placed with a prospective adoptive parent for adoption; the consent or relinquishment to adoption by the parent has become irrevocable except upon a showing of fraud, duress, or other circumstance; termination of parental rights is a condition precedent to adoption in the jurisdiction where the adoption proceeding is to be filed; and the parent does not contest the termination of parental rights.

The party seeking termination must prove the case by clear and convincing evidence. Even if grounds are established, the court must still decide that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the minor child.

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For more information call: 704-865-8684