Abandoning children but fighting termination of parental rights

Posted Monday, November 30th, 2015 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Adoption/Termination of Parental Rights, Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

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 must 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.

7 thoughts on Abandoning children but fighting termination of parental rights

  1. Matt Stimac says:


    I have a daughter that just skimps by financially. She has a daughter that lives one state away from her domicile. I know she doesn’t pay child support, but sees her whenever she can. The father has full custody and could legally keep my daughter away from seeing her. Here is where it gets complicated. His live in girl friend has had two children with him and has been very uncooperative in helping my daughter in anyway to see her daughter unless my daughter drives the entire way to get her. Five hour drive one way. My daughter is now getting a motel room down there to keep from driving so much of the time, when they do allow her to see her.

    I know for sure that my daughter loves her very much and would see her more often, but because of her financial situation it’s not possible.

    This I also know that the young girl has become very unruly and sassy. Par for the course I guess. The girl is 9 and very small for her age which doesn’t help. (She could pass for a 5 year old until she starts to talk).

    At this stage I’ve advised her to do what’s best for her and her daughter. See her at the holiday’s and other special times and let life takes it’s course. The more you frustrate the situation it won’t help her daughter. The decision was made long ago and to fight it would only make misery for all concerned.

    Matt Stimac

  2. Penelope says:

    Hi, Greg. Thank you for this post. I’m curious if there is any defense a court would listen to that would over-turn TPR in an abandonment case. Several years of abandonment in a step-parent adoption case, just like the one you’ve described and the abandoning parent is contesting and requesting reunification. The child does not know the abandoning parent and has been raised by the step-parent all these years. Is there nothing that bio-parent can do to get what he wants? Thank you.

    1. Smitty says:

      So let me get this strait…. So I understand your post. The biological dad did or did not already had his parental rights terminated?! If so was it Voluntary or involuntary?! And the step parent adoption has been granted and step parent has raised child all these years while bio father does not know what so ever. And he wants the TPR over turned and is requesting reunification?! On what grounds?!

  3. Mae says:

    The father of the grandchild I am TPR/adopt will not give me his address for service of citation but he will respond, at times, via fb messages. I am representing myself in this suit for both TPR and adoption. Is it legal and acceptable to send the petition via fb (Facebook) messenger in Texas?
    How would I prove it was received. I can tell when he reads a message because it indicates when received. He has not seen this child for the 3.5 years I have had him. the child is 4 years old now.

  4. Denise says:

    Hi, my daughter has a 4 year old son (soon to turn 5) . His dad he not seen nor spoke with him since April when my daughter took him to,see him. She pretty much didn’t ask him for a thing but to at least call his son, which he wouldn’t do because he said “it hurt too much” because he he no way ( no car, no job) to see him. Since my grandson was beginning 4K in August my daughter went to a lawyer to get custody established. Even though she didn’t want child support the judge ordered support to be paid and the his dad could have supervise visitation with his son until issues could be worked out (he didn’t show up to court) In October my daughter filed papaw rower to TPR of the dad due to no contact in six months, and she wanted his last name changed to hers ( they were not married, however she did list him as the father on the birth certificate. We were unable to serve him the papers but the lawyer did get in touch with him via phone. He would not agree to give up his rights but said he would agree to changing his last name. Once he came to the lawyers office to sign the paperwork he changed his mind.. Said we could add her last name but he wasn’t agreeing to drop his name from the birth certificate. Also in the agreement he was suppose to take a drug test, begin parenting classes and angry management classes… Giving my daughter full access to all the records at the classes he attends and is suppose to go,through transition counseling with his son, who by the way he still has not seen or spoken with since April of 2016. Unfortunately we were just informed today that our grandson will have 2 last names instead of one , even though it isn’t hyphenated. The whole intent of the name change was so he could learn to,write his new last name this semester in school, and the fact that he has questioned why his name is not the same as his mom’s. But the gist of this is, now we are being told we have to,wait another 6 months to attempt the TPR proceedings again. The dad has yet to make any contact or effort to see his son, or call him. He has not attended any parenting or anger management classes or paid the ordered child support. In your opinion is there anything we can do to speed up.this process? Our grandson will begin counseling in January to help him understand or learn to cope with why his dad won’t see him. His mom has no problem letting dad be a part of his life, her issue is that the dad doesn’t understand or care how it’s affecting his son. We always talk positive bout his dad when he brings him up ( which is often) but now he’s getting to the point to where he’s telling his teachers at church and school that he doesn’t have a dad… Any suggestions.?

  5. Layla says:

    I am the stepmother requesting to adopt . I have been in the child’s life for 8 out of 9 years faithfully. The child has resided with us in our home. The bio mom has seen the child 9 times in the last 2 years after adjusting the partial visitation she had to less time. The bio mom has not seen her daughter in over a year has not spoken to her in 8 months. The bio mom has never paid child support, she provided some document that she was filing for disability so she wasn’t required to pay by law. She has given us 25 dollars in almost 4 years. The bio mom moved to a new address without informing us , has sold the bedroom furniture for the child, has never attended a dr appointment of any kind, has not attended school functions or extracurricular activities in 2 years. The bio mom is of course contesting the adoption and we will have court within 30 days. We are claiming abandonment for PA. Can we also use non payment of support even though she is not legally required. I’m just hoping this works as the child does not want to be with the bio mom . Thank you

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