Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney
Terminating a parent’s parental rights in Florida is not easy. As a Jacksonville family lawyer I often have clients that are frustrated because one parent has continuously failed to pay child support. The parent may have hired the Florida Department of Revenue to find the parent, but been unsuccessful in getting result. The parent who is responsible for the child the majority of the time often grows tired of always having to track down the “deadbeat parent”. However, Florida laws protect parents’ rights and want to make certain that the children’s best interests are looked after.
Under Florida law, nonpayment of child support is not enough to show abandonment of a child. A parent cannot seek to terminate another’s rights simply because child support has not been paid. Also, a parent cannot deny the other time-sharing (i.e. visitation) with the children simply because child support has gone unpaid. Child support and time with your child are two very different things and the Florida courts treat them as such.
If a parent has been absent from a child’s life, in that the parent has failed to make any contact including through letters, cards, emails, etc. then there may be grounds to seek a termination of parental rights. Also, if the paternity of a child has never been established through the court and the parents were unmarried when the child was born, then a parent may seek to have the child adopted by a stepparent by establishing that the father is unknown and that a diligent search has been conducted for the father. If a parent is not involved in the child’s life, or the parent has been absent more than present and agrees to the termination of his/her rights, then that parent’s rights may be terminated by consent. If a parent files a petition to terminate the other parent’s parental rights and the parent is properly served with the petition and never files an answer, then that parent’s rights may be terminated by default.
In cases where a parent has been absent, there are ways to establish that the best interest of the child will be served by terminating that parent’s rights. However, you have to go through the process correctly so that nothing comes back to haunt you or the child later. Understanding the process for terminating a parent’s rights is vital to moving forward.
If you do impede on a parent’s rights to see the children, and the other parent alleges such, then you may not be able to get his/her rights terminated by the court. In fact, if it is shown and found by the court that the only reason the other parent has been absent is because of the other, then that parent may be able to see additional time with the children, ask for a change to the time-sharing schedule, etc. Withholding a child from a parent, without good legal cause (i.e. abuse) can be detrimental to both the child and the parents. Simply telling the court that the other parent failed to pay child support and therefore you did not allow time-sharing will hurt you more than help you.
If you have a case involving an absent parent and wish to better understand your rights and options you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.