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Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

If a birth parent does not consent to adoption, what are the grounds for termination of parental rights? The most common grounds are neglect, abandonment, abuse, and unfitess. Utah Code 80-4-301.

Neglect: Neglect means lack of proper parental care of a child by reason of the fault or habits of the parent, or failure or refusal of a parent to provide proper or necessary subsistence or medical care, or any other care necessary for the child's health, safety, morals or well-being. Utah Code 80-1-102(58).

Abandonment: Abandonment is not defined in the code; however, evidence of abandonment includes evidence the parent surrendered physical custody of the child and for at least six months have not manifested to the child or caregiver "a firm intention to resume physical custody or to make arrangements for the care of the child." The court will also consider evidence that the parent has failed to communicate with the child for six months and/or failed to show the normal interest of a natural parent without just cause.

Abuse: Abuse means nonaccidental harm of a child, threatened harm of a child, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, or human trafficking of a child. Utah Code 80-1-102(1)(a). However, abuse does not include reasonably discipline, or reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child in self-defense, defense of others, or to protect the child.

Unfitness: Unfit is not defined in the code; however, the court will consider evidence of mental illness, substance abuse, a history of violent behavior, mentally/emotionally abusive behavior, and whether the parent is incarcerated as a result of conviction of a felony and the sentence if of such length that the child will be deprived of a normal home life for more than one year. Utah Code 80-4-302.

If a birth parent refuses to consent to adoption, there are various ways to obtain evidence to support a petition for termination of parental rights and adoption. These ways include subpoenas and GRAMA requests to gather DCFS records, police reports, witness statements, conviction/court records, probation and parole records, and records from the Utah Dept of Corrections. Social media posts can also provide a source of evidence or leads to witnesses with admissible testimony.

If you have questions about a possible adoption, please contact us at the Utah Adoption Law Center at (435) 592-1235 or (385) 200-1972.

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