Abandoning children but fighting termination of parental rights

I recently took a phone call from a mother who’d just been served with termination of parental rights (TPR)/stepmother adoption action. A few years earlier she’d left her then-husband and child and moved far, far away. Since then she hadn’t seen the child nor paid her court-ordered child support. Her ex-husband had remarried and the stepmother was now the child’s primary maternal figure.

It shocked her to be served with this action but it didn’t shock me. Abandon your child and eventually someone may attempt to terminate your parental rights–especially when someone is willing to adopt. To terminate parental rights one most prove both a statutory ground, listed in S.C. Code § 63-7-2570, and that the termination is in the child’s best interests. When one has abandoned a child for more than six months, there’s almost always a viable statutory ground. The battle is typically fought over best interests.

The abandoning parent rarely believes that such termination is in the child’s best interests. Whatever thought process led him or her to abandon the child leads them to think that the parent-child relationship can be immediately resumed as though nothing consequential happened. In contrast, for children, especially young children, the breech in that relationship occasioned by the abandonment cannot be immediately repaired–and may be irreparable. If, in the interim, the child has developed a bonded relationship with another caregiver, TPR and adoption is likely in that child’s best interests.

Abandoning parents have a hard time perceiving what is in the child’s best interests–they wouldn’t abandon if they did. They frequently conceive their own desires as being congruent with the child’s best interests. However, in resolving a TPR/adoption case, the family court judge is solely concerned with the child’s best interests. And children are typically best served when cared for by a constant and responsible presence. A biological parent’s sadness at having parental rights terminated is of little concern to the judge.

The counsel I provided this parent is the same I provide any abandoning parent faced with a TPR case: one can fight it on the best interests issue but how would you convince the family court that it is not in the child’s best interests? The response is almost always a story justifying the abandonment rather than explaining why the parent-child relationship is worth preserving. Often these parents are in no position to resume parenting the child–whatever issues that led them to abandon the child remain unresolved.

Judge without being judgmental. One can explain to such parents that they are very unlikely to successfully defend the action without judging them for abandoning their children, even though few family law attorneys would think themselves capable of similar abandonment. But it is never comfortable to take such phone calls.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

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