Whenever possible, Florida courts give custody of children to the children’s legal mother and legal father. Custody is defined as physical residence with a parent or other legal guardian and decision-making power related to the children’s education, medical care, and other important life events. Usually, the legal mother and legal father are the child’s biological mother and her husband. If the mother is not married, a man can become the legal father by filing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity with the court. In the case of adoption, the court transfers parental rights from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.
Once you are the legal parent of a child, it is difficult to lose your parental rights. The courts acknowledge that parents are only human, and that it is almost always in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her own parents. For example, having a criminal record or a diagnosis of a mental illness or addiction does not, by itself, mean that the court will reduce or take away your right to spend time with your children or make decisions about them. Involuntary termination of parental rights only happens when it is impossible for the parent to provide adequate care for the child or when the parent has seriously endangered the child.
Bases for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
These are some of the cases in which Florida courts can terminate a parent’s parental rights.
- Long prison sentences: Most prison sentences do not cost parents their parental rights. If the parent’s sentence is no long that the child will have turned 18 by the time the parent is released, the court may terminate the parent’s rights.
- Breach of case plan: If the parent has repeatedly failed to meet the requirements of a case plan set by the Department of Children and Families, the parent may lose his or her parental rights.
- Abuse: Physical and sexual abuse of a child can be grounds for termination of parental rights. Depending on the severity of the abuse, a single incident can be grounds for termination of rights.
- Failure to comply with substance abuse treatment: If a mother gives birth to a child whose bodily fluids test positive for alcohol or illicit drugs, the court will require the mother to undergo addiction treatment. If she fails to comply with treatment, she can lose her parental rights. If she gives birth to a subsequent child, and this second child also tests positive for drugs or alcohol, she will automatically lose her rights to both children.
- Violent sex crimes: If the parent is convicted of a crime that requires the parent to register as a sexual predator, the parent will lose parental rights. According to Florida law, not every sex offender is a sexual predator. Florida also requires people to register as sex offenders for non-violent crimes such as failure to notify a partner of your HIV-positive status, even if you use condoms or take medications to reduce your risk of transmitting the virus, and “Romeo and Juliet” relationships, which are consensual relationships between teens who are close in age, but only one is a legal adult. Sexual predators are people who have been convicted either of violent sex crimes or sexual abuse of minors.
Contact Alan Burton About Parental Rights
It is possible to reinstate your parental rights after they have been terminated, but it is very difficult. Contact Alan R. Burton in Boca Raton, Florida to find out how Florida’s parental rights laws apply to your situation.