As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I often have clients ask me if they can have the other party’s parental rights terminated due to the lack of participation in the child’s life. In child support cases, when a parent has not paid child support nor attempted to contact the child or have any visitation with the child, the primary parent grows weary of tracking down the other and tired of explaining to the child why the other parent is not involved in the child’s life. Other times that this topic arises is when a parent remarries and the stepparent wants to adopt the child. However, terminate the rights of a parent, without consent, is not as easy as 1, 2, 3 because it is a big deal to give up rights to the child and for the child to give up rights to the other parent. The Florida legislature has given provisions that protect children, but ultimately, if the other parent does not respond to the court action, then by default his/her parental rights may be terminated regardless of the provisions.
The main factor in terminating parental rights is whether the other parent agrees to the termination. Termination of parental rights may be accomplished by consent of both parties. However, if there is no one there to step-in as the other parent (e.g. stepparent adoption), then the court may require financial information for the remaining parent to show that the parent is financially capable of independently providing for the child. The reason for this is that parents that do not have financial means to provide for the child may request some type of government assistance, such as Medicaid for the child’s healthcare. The State then has an interest in the case and the Court needs to protect the State from the remaining parent presently asking for such assistance from the government and voluntarily relieving the other parent of financial support.
If the other parent’s whereabouts are unknown, then a diligent search must be completed. If the missing parent is the father, then the search must include the Florida Putative Father Registry. The Putative Father Registry is a place where men should register their name and identifying information if there is any chance that he may be the father of a child in Florida. Once the registry search is completed, that notice of search is filed with the court. In addition, regardless of mother or father, the requesting party must also publish notice of the case in a local newspaper in the city of the last known address of the parent. If no answer or reply is ever received, then parental rights may be terminated by default. Once a clerk’s default is entered, a final default hearing must be held with the Judge to determine whether it is in the best interest of the child for the parent’s rights to be terminated.
If the absent parent does reply and objects to the termination of his/her rights, then a different form of the case must be pursued. This type of case requires evidence for the court to find that the absent parent has, in essence, abandoned the child or acted in a way that warrants termination of his/her rights.