Termination of Parental Rights in Florida

Florida's termination of parental rights statutes, (§39.801 through §39.815) cover the procedure for termination of one, or both parents parental rights.

Our Sarasota divorce attorneys are frequently asked this question during proceedings for custody or "time-sharing" and during child support litigation. Often, a parent who is providing the care and support for the minor child, and has been doing so with no assistance from the other parent for some time, will desire to terminate the other parent's parental rights.

While the feelings are certainly justified, the procedure for terminating parental rights in Florida is a complex one, and requires judicial intervention, even if one, or both of the parents have agreed in writing to terminate their parental rights.

Florida Statute §39.806 provides 13 separate grounds that can be used to terminate one, or both parents' parental rights. They appear in the Statute as follows:

(a) When the parent or parents have voluntarily executed a written surrender of the child and consented to the entry of an order giving custody of the child to the department for subsequent adoption and the department is willing to accept custody of the child.
1. The surrender document must be executed before two witnesses and a notary public or other person authorized to take acknowledgments.
2. The surrender and consent may be withdrawn after acceptance by the department only after a finding by the court that the surrender and consent were obtained by fraud or under duress.
(b) Abandonment as defined in s. 39.01(1) or when the identity or location of the parent or parents is unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent search within 60 days.
(c) When the parent or parents engaged in conduct toward the child or toward other children that demonstrates that the continuing involvement of the parent or parents in the parent-child relationship threatens the life, safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child irrespective of the provision of services. Provision of services may be evidenced by proof that services were provided through a previous plan or offered as a case plan from a child welfare agency.
(d) When the parent of a child is incarcerated and either:
1. The period of time for which the parent is expected to be incarcerated will constitute a significant portion of the child’s minority. When determining whether the period of time is significant, the court shall consider the child’s age and the child’s need for a permanent and stable home. The period of time begins on the date that the parent enters into incarceration;
2. The incarcerated parent has been determined by the court to be a violent career criminal as defined in s. 775.084, a habitual violent felony offender as defined in s. 775.084, or a sexual predator as defined in s. 775.21; has been convicted of first degree or second degree murder in violation of s. 782.04 or a sexual battery that constitutes a capital, life, or first degree felony violation of s. 794.011; or has been convicted of an offense in another jurisdiction which is substantially similar to one of the offenses listed in this paragraph. As used in this section, the term “substantially similar offense” means any offense that is substantially similar in elements and penalties to one of those listed in this subparagraph, and that is in violation of a law of any other jurisdiction, whether that of another state, the District of Columbia, the United States or any possession or territory thereof, or any foreign jurisdiction; or
3. The court determines by clear and convincing evidence that continuing the parental relationship with the incarcerated parent would be harmful to the child and, for this reason, that termination of the parental rights of the incarcerated parent is in the best interest of the child. When determining harm, the court shall consider the following factors:
a. The age of the child.
b. The relationship between the child and the parent.
c. The nature of the parent’s current and past provision for the child’s developmental, cognitive, psychological, and physical needs.
d. The parent’s history of criminal behavior, which may include the frequency of incarceration and the unavailability of the parent to the child due to incarceration.
e. Any other factor the court deems relevant.
(e) When a child has been adjudicated dependent, a case plan has been filed with the court, and:
1. The child continues to be abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parent or parents. The failure of the parent or parents to substantially comply with the case plan for a period of 12 months after an adjudication of the child as a dependent child or the child’s placement into shelter care, whichever occurs first, constitutes evidence of continuing abuse, neglect, or abandonment unless the failure to substantially comply with the case plan was due to the parent’s lack of financial resources or to the failure of the department to make reasonable efforts to reunify the parent and child. The 12-month period begins to run only after the child’s placement into shelter care or the entry of a disposition order placing the custody of the child with the department or a person other than the parent and the court’s approval of a case plan having the goal of reunification with the parent, whichever occurs first; or
2. The parent or parents have materially breached the case plan. Time is of the essence for permanency of children in the dependency system. In order to prove the parent or parents have materially breached the case plan, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the parent or parents are unlikely or unable to substantially comply with the case plan before time to comply with the case plan expires.
(f) The parent or parents engaged in egregious conduct or had the opportunity and capability to prevent and knowingly failed to prevent egregious conduct that threatens the life, safety, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child or the child’s sibling.
1. As used in this subsection, the term “sibling” means another child who resides with or is cared for by the parent or parents regardless of whether the child is related legally or by consanguinity.
2. As used in this subsection, the term “egregious conduct” means abuse, abandonment, neglect, or any other conduct that is deplorable, flagrant, or outrageous by a normal standard of conduct. Egregious conduct may include an act or omission that occurred only once but was of such intensity, magnitude, or severity as to endanger the life of the child.
(g) The parent or parents have subjected the child or another child to aggravated child abuse as defined in s. 827.03, sexual battery or sexual abuse as defined in s. 39.01, or chronic abuse.
(h) The parent or parents have committed the murder, manslaughter, aiding or abetting the murder, or conspiracy or solicitation to murder the other parent or another child, or a felony battery that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or to another child.
(i) The parental rights of the parent to a sibling of the child have been terminated involuntarily.
(j) The parent or parents have a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance which renders them incapable of caring for the child, and have refused or failed to complete available treatment for such use during the 3-year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition for termination of parental rights.
(k) A test administered at birth that indicated that the child’s blood, urine, or meconium contained any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance or metabolites of such substances, the presence of which was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant, and the biological mother of the child is the biological mother of at least one other child who was adjudicated dependent after a finding of harm to the child’s health or welfare due to exposure to a controlled substance or alcohol as defined in s. 39.01, after which the biological mother had the opportunity to participate in substance abuse treatment.
(l) On three or more occasions the child or another child of the parent or parents has been placed in out-of-home care pursuant to this chapter, and the conditions that led to the child’s out-of-home placement were caused by the parent or parents.
1(m) The court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived as a result of an act of sexual battery made unlawful pursuant to s. 794.011, or pursuant to a similar law of another state, territory, possession, or Native American tribe where the offense occurred. It is presumed that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child if the child was conceived as a result of the unlawful sexual battery. A petition for termination of parental rights under this paragraph may be filed at any time. The court must accept a guilty plea or conviction of unlawful sexual battery pursuant to s. 794.011 as conclusive proof that the child was conceived by a violation of criminal law as set forth in this subsection.

If you are seeking to terminate a parent's parental rights, or you are subject to an action for termation of parental rights, contact our office at (941) 404-8908 to talk to one of our Sarasota Divorce Attorneys.