Termination of Parental Rights in Family Court

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Termination of parental rights is the most serious matter that Kentucky family courts deal with. These cases frequently involve the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) and may occur after a child has been placed in foster care. Typically, the child’s parents were accused of child abuse or neglect in a family court case and were given a chance to work a case plan. Any parent involved in a case where their parental rights may be terminated needs to be fully aware of the significance of the outcome: termination of parental rights (sometimes referred to as a “TPR”) prevents a parent from ever being able to have a child be returned to their custody. This permanently cuts the biological parents out of the life of the child, including severing any parenting time or visitation that the parent may have been enjoying with the child.

The recent Kentucky Supreme Court case of Cabinet for Health and Family Services v. H.L.O. provides a great example of how complicated these cases can be. In that case, a mother gave birth to a child and both the child and the mother tested positive for drugs immediately after the birth. The child was removed from the mother, who was then given a case plan to work in order to have her child returned to her. Throughout the case, the mother struggled with continued drug use. Eventually, the court did what is called a “goal change.” This is when the court changes the goal of the case from “return to parent” to having the child adopted after that parent’s rights are terminated.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services filed a petition to terminate the mother’s rights. The Cabinet presented evidence that it took the mother a very long time to work her plan and continued to struggle in various ways. The mother was able to present evidence that she had made significant progress in her sobriety and living situation. Also, the mother maintained custody of two prior born children and was able to care for them. In the end, the family court terminated her parental rights. The Supreme Court agreed.

In termination cases, the court must follow a very strict set of laws that dictate when a termination is proper. Failure to adhere to this procedure would provide a basis to have a termination reversed on appeal. The laws on the subject are very complicated and there are many ways an error could occur. An experienced attorney is able to keep a close eye on whether the Cabinet and the court have made any errors that would be beneficial to the client’s case. Also, the facts in these cases can sometimes lead to situations where it is a close call for a court to decide whether to terminate or not. A skilled attorney can highlight the positive aspects of your case and fight back against the Cabinet’s allegations in order to maximize your chances of success.

It is also worth noting that termination of parental rights can have an impact on future cases. Specifically, if a parent has an involuntary termination of parental rights in a past case, it makes it easier for the rights to a future child to be terminated. In circumstances where a parent has little to no chance of success, the parent should discuss with their attorney the benefits of voluntarily terminating his or her parental rights to prevent this.

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