Terminating a Parent’s Rights in South Carolina

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Although terminating a parent’s rights is never easy, in some extreme situations, it may be necessary to protect the child.  The process of terminating a parent’s rights is a way to legally sever a parent’s legal rights, privileges, and responsibilities for their child.  If you are seeking to terminate a parent’s legal rights or you are facing a termination action, it is critical to consult a local attorney to walk you through the process and understand the intricacies of the action.

Grounds for Terminating a Parent’s Rights

Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2570, there are 12 statutory grounds for TPR:

  • A parent has acted in a way that harms, abuses, or neglects the safety of the child in their home severely and/or repeatedly.  Because of the severity and repeated nature of the abuse, it is unlikely the home can be made safe within 12 months.
  • A parent fails to fix conditions that have previously led to a child being removed from that parent’s home within the past six months.
  • A parent willfully fails to visit a child for a period of at least six months while the child has lived outside his or her home.
  • A parent willfully fails to support (make material contributions to) the child for a period of at least six months.
  • The presumptive legal father is not the biological father of the child.
  • A parent pleads guilty or “nolo contendere” (“no contest”) to physically abusing their child and the abuse resulted in the child’s death or admission to the hospital for inpatient care.
  • A parent has abandoned the child.
  • South Carolina has had the responsibility for the child through the state’s foster care system for 15 of the past 22 months.
  • A parent is diagnosed with a condition that makes a parent unable or unlikely to provide minimally acceptable care of the child.  Conditions may include mental illness or deficiency, advanced physical incapacity, or alcohol or drug addiction.
  • A parent pleads guilty or “no contest” or is convicted of murdering the child’s other parent.
  • A parent pleads guilty or “no contest” or is convicted of murdering another child of that parent.
  • The child was conceived as a result of an act of criminal sexual conduct of the biological parent.

Legal Standard for Terminating a Parent’s Rights

In the opinion issued by the United States Supreme Court in Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982), the Court found that a moving party must meet a clear and convincing evidence standard to terminate parental rights.  To terminate a parent’s rights in South Carolina, a moving party must prove two things: (1) by clear and convincing evidence that terminating the parent’s rights would be in the best interests of the child and (2) that one of the 12 grounds listed is proven by clear and convincing evidence.

Necessary Contents of a Termination Petition

S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2540 sets forth the required contents for a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights:

  1. Why the South Carolina Court has jurisdiction;
  2. The name, gender, date, and place of birth of the child at issue;
  3. The contact information (name and address) and relationship of the petitioning party to the child;
  4. The names, dates, of birth, and addresses of both parents of the child, if known;
  5. The contact information for the child’s legal guardian or person/agency that has legal custody of the child; and
  6. The grounds under which the Petition is brought, along with relevant fact supporting these grounds (see above).

Service of Termination Action 

After filing the initial petition, the moving party must make sure parents are given notice of the action by “serving” them with the papers. South Carolina law provides that a petition for termination of parental rights must be served upon several individuals:

  1. The child, if the child is 14 years or older;
  2. The child’s guardian ad litem, if the child is under 14;
  3. The child’s parents; and
  4. The agency with placement/custody of the child.

What Happens Before a Parent’s Rights Are Terminated? 

Oftentimes a court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child in a termination proceeding.  The GAL will help the court investigate what is in the best interests of the child by conducting interviews with the child and parent(s) in question and investigating the surrounding circumstances.

South Carolina law dictates that a hearing on the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights must be held within 120 days of the date the petition is filed.  At this hearing, the Judge will consider all relevant evidence regarding termination to determine whether the moving party has met their legal standard of proof.

What Happens if a Judge Terminates a Parent’s Rights?

Terminating a parent’s rights effectively means that parent will no longer have any rights or responsibilities towards that child.  A parent thus will no longer have any rights to visit the child, nor will they have any obligation to pay child support for the child.

Termination is often is done in the context of another parent seeking to adopt the child.  If the rights of one or both of the child’s parents are terminated, an outside party may then seek to adopt a child.  This typically occurs when one parent successfully terminates the rights of another and then remarries.  The new spouse can then petition to adopt the child.  If the rights of both of the child’s parents are terminated, a foster care family may seek to adopt the child.  It should be noted here that although termination of parental rights terminates most rights of the child, only a final adoption decree will terminate a child’s right to inherit from their biological parent.

Contact an Experienced Greenville, South Carolina Family Law Attorney Today!

Proceeding on a petition to terminate a parent’s rights is often a difficult and emotional process for everyone involved.  It is important to contact local, skilled Greenville family law attorneys like those at Elliott Frazier Law Firm who are experienced in termination proceedings to help walk you through and understand each stage of the process.  Contact us today to discuss your case!

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