Termination of Parental Rights

A Nevada court can terminate the rights of a parent relating to a child, declaring that child free from the custody and control of either or both of his parents. In all such actions, the best interests of the child is the primary consideration, which is examined in conjunction with a finding of parental fault.

An order terminating parental rights cuts off all aspects of the parent/child relationship; both rights and responsibilities (such as to provide child support). While a parent can choose to “relinquish” parental rights, a parent cannot voluntarily “terminate his parental rights and obligations,” unless a court deems it to be in the child’s best interests.

A court order terminating parental rights requires a finding that such termination would serve the best interest of the child, and that other grounds exist, including: Abandonment of the child; Neglect of the child; Unfitness of the parent; “Failure of Parental Adjustment”; Risk of serious physical, mental or emotional injury to the child if he were returned to, or remains in, the home of his parent or parents; “Only token efforts by the parent or parents” (to do the things that parents do for children); or abandonment. All of those terms have statutory definitions, listing the factors to be weighed to determine whether they apply. In 1995, the Nevada Legislature addressed the importance of a child’s best interest by adding a provision that in any action brought by a natural parent to set aside a termination after a petition for adoption has been granted, the best interests of the child must be the primary and determining consideration of the court. This creates a presumption that the best interests of the child are served by remaining in the adoptive home.

There have been a significant number of decisions by the Nevada Supreme Court addressing all aspects of the termination of parental rights laws. It has often been reiterated that termination of parental rights is “an exercise of awesome power,” and the cases have called such an order “tantamount to imposition of a civil death penalty.” Facts supporting a request for termination must be established by clear and convincing evidence.

Incarceration alone is not sufficient evidence to support a finding of abandonment as a matter of law, and there have been a number of cases describing when the imprisonment (and other behavior) of a parent will or will not support a termination of that parent’s rights.

In a termination case, the court may appoint an attorney as the child’s counsel. The court may also appoint counsel for indigent parents. There are special rules governing termination proceedings when the child in question is a member of an American Indian tribe.

Every such case is, by its nature, highly specific, and the exact facts of each such case should be individually examined by counsel before any decision is made whether or not to file such an action.

WILLICK LAW GROUP has prosecuted and defended a number of termination of parental rights actions. The order sought is a severe one, and requires both careful legal work and, more fundamentally, a healthy respect for exactly what is being requested, and its practical ramifications. Our experience has given us the proper perspective for handling such cases with the seriousness that they warrant.

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