Anyone who has ever been a mother or father knows that parenthood is complicated. The relatively uncommon case in which a father severs his legal relationship with a child might happen willingly or unwillingly in Georgia as elsewhere. This serious option is only available in certain cases, however, and it must closely follow the statutes laid out in Georgia Code Section 15-11-94.
Terminating Parental Rights: The Requirements
Anyone with what Georgian law refers to as in-depth "knowledge of the facts" can petition for a termination of parental rights. This is typically a close family member. Either parent can petition the court for a voluntary surrender of their parental rights as well.
In either case, the petition must be verified and endorsed by the juvenile court before being filed. All termination proceedings except those involving adoption are tried in juvenile courts in the Peach State. In cases where the child is able to corroborate her parent's lack of parental ability, the child may sign the petition as well, although this is not a requirement. Children are permitted to deliver court room testimony in family law cases in Georgia, but it's determined on a case-by-case basis with the court striving to keep the child's emotional safety in mind. A child's testimony can also be delivered via video recording.
The petition must be served to the parent and, if the parent fails to respond to the summons that's included, the child can end up in protective custody.
In cases where a parent doesn't voluntarily consent in writing to the termination or surrender of her parental rights to accommodate adoption, Georgia law has strict requirements for the involuntary termination of parental rights, such as a parent willfully failing to pay child support for a year or more, abandoning her child, or murdering the other parent. Per section (b)(4)(A) of Georgia Code 15-11-94, "misconduct or inability" may also be reason enough. If a child is deprived in such a way as to cause serious physical, mental or emotional harm and that failure is likely to recur, the court has a case of "misconduct or inability" on its hands.
Terminating Parental Rights: the Process
Upon filing, the juvenile court appoints an attorney to represent the child in question. Although this is a civil case, Georgia courts will also provide parents who are in verifiable financial need with a lawyer.
Within 90 days of filing the petition, a hearing is conducted without a jury. Judges make the final decision to grant or deny a petition to terminate parental rights in Georgia. If the judge decides to grant termination, the order to terminate parental rights immediately severs the parent's rights and obligations in regard to parenthood. The court isn't even legally obligated to inform the parent of legal proceedings regarding the child's adoption at this point.
In cases of voluntary surrender, fathers and mothers have only four days to revoke the decision, which must be delivered as written notice to the relevant child-placing agency.
Read More: The Termination of a Father's Parental Rights
More to Know
In some cases, both parents might file a petition to voluntarily surrender their child for adoption. In others, just the father or mother will take this route, typically to accommodate a step-parent adoption.
As Woodstock, Georgia, lawyer Caryn S. Fennell writes, "the termination of parental rights is an extremely sensitive issue and the Juvenile Court, which presides over such matters, is generally reluctant to remove a child from the care of its parent or parents."
The gravity of these cases and the Georgia Code's clear definitions of "misconduct or inability" help to ensure that dads can't use termination of parental rights laws to partake in shady business. For example, you can't terminate your parental rights simply to avoid paying child support in Georgia – juvenile court judges will make sure of that.
In cases of adoption, parents can essentially sign over parental rights in the state of Georgia through a process known as termination of parental rights.
- DivorceNet: Termination of Parental Rights in Georgia
- The Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell: Termination of Parental Rights
- Meriwether and Tharp, LLC: Termination of Parental Rights
- GeorgiaLegalAid.org: Termination of Parental Rights
- Meriwether and Tharp, LLC: Should a Child Be Permitted to Testify in Georgia Family Law Cases?