When the state of Kentucky terminates a parent's rights, the child becomes available for adoption by another family. In some cases, a birth parent chooses adoption for the child. In other circumstances, the state protects the child's best interests through termination. As such, termination of parental rights, whether voluntary or involuntary, has life-long consequences. A parent should consult a lawyer if she does not fully understand how termination will affect her relationship with the child.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Under Kentucky law, a mother or father may choose voluntary termination of parental rights. To get a court-ordered termination, the child's birth mother may file a "Petition for Voluntary Termination" with the Kentucky state courts. The process involves filing the petition and appearing for a court hearing. If both birth parents would like to give up their rights, they can file the petition together. If the father does not admit to his paternity of the child or is unknown, state law allows for an involuntary termination of his parental rights.
Rather than file the Petition for Voluntary Termination, Kentucky law also permits a parent to sign a "Voluntary and Informed Consent" form to make the child available for adoption. Signature of the consent form cannot happen until at least 72 hours have passed since the child's birth. The consent to adoption must identify a specific individual who will adopt the child. Accordingly, if the parent plans to release the child to a Kentucky adoption agency without a prearranged adoption, the agency may prefer that the birth parent participate in a court-ordered termination rather than sign a consent form. After signature of the adoption consent, the birth parent has a revocation period of 20 days to change the decision.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
When a parent does not agree to a termination of parental rights, the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children may file a petition for an involuntary termination. As part of the court proceedings, the Kentucky circuit court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child. The parent also has a right to legal counsel -- if the parent is indigent and cannot afford a lawyer, the court may appoint one for the parent's case. A social worker works with the cabinet, the court and the parties involved to review the family's case. The court may not grant the petition unless the state establishes grounds for the termination. The judge must also agree that termination represents the child's best interests.
Grounds for Involuntary Termination
The Kentucky circuit courts may not end a parent's rights involuntarily unless the state finds grounds for termination as specified by state law. The Kentucky Revised Statutes establish grounds for termination in section 625.090. For example, a conviction of physical or sexual abuse may lead to an involuntary termination of parental rights. Other grounds for termination include abandonment, physical neglect, emotional abuse and the child living in foster care for at least 15 of the 22 months immediately preceding the petition to terminate the parent's rights. The state must meet the legal standard of "clear and convincing evidence" when establishing grounds for termination.