Topic:
TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS; ADOPTION;
Location:
JUVENILES;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


September 24, 1998 98-R-1142

FROM: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director

RE: Standards and Procedures for Termination of Parental Rights

You asked for a brief summary of the standards and procedures for termination of parental rights.

SUMMARY

Parental rights terminations can be done in either Superior Court or probate court. Generally those done in probate court are uncontested and preliminary to an adoption, while those done in Superior Court are often contested and involve abuse or neglect. The grounds for termination are the same in both except for one additional ground in Superior Court that is not relevant in probate court.

Termination must be initiated by filing a petition, and notice must be given and a hearing held. The standard of proof at the hearing is “clear and convincing,” a civil standard more rigorous than “preponderance of the evidence” and less rigorous than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In all cases the court must find the termination to be in the child's best interest, and it must find the termination to be (1) voluntary or (2) based on at least one of seven specific grounds. In Superior Court cases the court must also find that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has made reasonable efforts to locate the parent and reunify him with the child.

In all terminations not based on consent the probate or Superior Court must consider and make written findings concerning several factors relating to the termination. Once termination is granted it completely severs the legal connection between the parent and child. If the parental rights of only one parent are terminated, the other parent remains the sole parent and guardian, unless the court acts otherwise.

PA 98-241 made substantial changes to the termination statutes, effective July 1, 1998. We have attached a complete summary of PA 98-241.

INITIATION OF TERMINATION

A number of parties can initiate a termination of parental rights by filing a petition with either the probate court (CGS 54a-715) or Superior Court (CGS 17a-112). A probate court petition can be filed by (1) either parent, (2) the child's guardian, (3) the selectman of a town with a foundling child, (4) a child care or child-placing or similar DCF-approved agency official, (5) a relative of a child whose parents have deserted him, or (6) the DCF commissioner if the parents have consented and the child has not been committed to DCF. In Superior Court, for a child in DCF custody, a petition may be filed by the DCF commissioner or an attorney who (1) represented the child in a prior or the pending proceeding, (2) is appointed by the court, or (3) is retained by a child who has reached age 14.

The statutes specify what information must be in the petition. This includes, among other things, the facts upon which the termination is sought and the legal grounds authorizing termination (CGS 45a-715(b)). Upon receipt of a petition, either court must schedule a hearing to be held within 30 days (CGS 54a-716(a)). This statute also specifies who is to be given notice of the hearing and how notice is to be served.

CONSENTUAL TERMINATIONS

By statute, a mother cannot consent to a termination within 48 hours of the birth of her child (CGS 17a-112(a)). A minor parent can consent to termination, but the court must appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor parent to assure that he or she is giving informed and voluntary consent. Each consenting parent must do so on a special acknowledgment form promulgated by the Office of the Chief Court Administrator.

In Superior Court the court can grant a voluntary termination if it finds that the parent has voluntarily and knowingly consented and, by clear and convincing evidence, that the termination is in the child's best interest (CGS 17a-112(b). In probate court, both findings must be by clear and convincing evidence (CGS 45a-717(f)).

INVOLUNTARY TERMINATIONS

The probate court can hear an involuntary termination of parental rights case, but (1) it must transfer to Superior Court any such case on the motion of any party other than the one bringing the petition and (2) it may transfer such a case on the petitioner's motion (CGS 45a-715(g)). To involuntarily terminate parental rights, the probate court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the termination is in the child's best interest and that at least one of the seven statutory grounds for termination exist (see below) (CGS 45a-717(g) as amended by 9 of PA 98-241).

The Superior Court must make the same two findings, but it must also make a finding concerning reunification unless it has already found that reunification efforts are not appropriate (CGS 17a-112(c) as amended by 8 of PA 98-241). The court must find that DCF has made reasonable efforts to find the parent and reunify him with the child or that the parent is unwilling or unable to benefit from reunification efforts.

GROUNDS FOR TERMINATION

Six of the seven statutory grounds for termination are shared by both probate court and Superior Court, but the latter has one additional ground related to children it has found to be neglected or uncared for. The common grounds are:

1. the child has been abandoned (the parent has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for the child's welfare);

2. parental acts of omission or commission, including but not limited to sexual molestation or exploitation, severe physical abuse, or a pattern of abuse, have denied the child the care, guidance, or control necessary for his physical, educational, moral, or emotional wellbeing (nonaccidental or inadequately explained serious physical injury constitutes prima facie evidence of parental acts sufficient for termination);

3. no ongoing parent-child relationship (the relationship that ordinarily develops due to a parent's meeting on a day-to-day basis the child's physical, emotional, moral and educational needs) exists and allowing more time for one to develop or be reestablished would be detrimental to the child's best interest;

4. the parent of a neglected or uncared for child under age seven has (a) failed or is unwilling or unable to achieve enough personal rehabilitation to encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the child's age and needs, the parent would be able to assume a responsible position in the child's life and (b) the parent has previously had his parental rights terminated for another child pursuant to DCF petition;

5. the parent deliberately killed or solicited, conspired, or attempted to kill another of his children or deliberately assaulted another of his children causing serious bodily injury; and

6. the parent was convicted of a sexual assault, other than second or fourth degree sexual assault, that resulted in the child's conception.

The seventh ground, which only applies in Superior Court, is that the parent has failed to rehabilitate himself after (1) having been found in a prior court proceeding to have neglected or failed to care for the child or (2) having been found to have neglected or failed to care for a child who has been in DCF custody for at least 15 months and the parent was given specific steps to take to facilitate the child's return.

WRITTEN COURT FINDINGS

In all contested terminations the probate court or Superior Court must consider and make written findings on the record regarding:

1. the timeliness, nature, and extent of services offered the parents by the agency to facilitate the return of the child to his parents;

2. whether DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify the parents and child pursuant to federal adoption and child welfare law;

3. the terms of any court order involving the parents and an agency and the extent the parties have fulfilled their obligations under the order;

4. the feelings and emotional ties the child has to his parents, guardian, or any other person who has had care, custody, or control of the child and with whom the child has developed significant emotional ties;

5. the child's age;

6. the parent's efforts to adjust to the situation to allow the child to return home, including but not limited to, maintaining contact with the child and with the child's guardian or custodian; and

7. the extent a parent has been prevented from maintaining a meaningful relationship with the child by the other parent, another person, or the parent's economic circumstances.

STEPS AFTER GRANTING TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

If only one parent's rights are terminated, the remaining parent becomes the sole parent or guardian (CGS 17a-112(g) and CGS 45a-717(j)). If both parents' rights are terminated, the court will appoint a guardian or statutory parent for the child. A statutory parent exercises legal authority over a child. The guardian or statutory parent must report to the court within 90 days on a case plan for the child. The statutory parent is frequently the DCF commissioner or a child-placing agency official, and they serve to consent to an adoption when a termination has been ordered preparatory to an adoption. When the termination is because of parental abuse or neglect, the child can remain in DCF custody, usually placed in foster care, while a permanent or more appropriate placement is sought.

LKF:pa