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Termination of Parental Rights

There are two ways to terminate a parental rights, voluntarily and involuntarily. A voluntary termination is agreed upon by both parents whereas an involuntary termination may occur without either parent’s consent.

As an alternative to a voluntary termination proceeding, the natural parent may consent to an adoption. A consent to adoption must comply with strict statutory requirements. After a decree of adoption is entered, the natural parents are relieved of all parental responsibilities including child support.

Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

Under Minnesota Statutes. 260C.301, subd. 1(a) (2000), parental rights may be terminated voluntarily with the written consent of a parent who for good cause desires termination. Even if both parents are in agreement that parental rights should be terminated, the Court must address whether the termination is occurring for good cause. "Good cause" is not defined in the statute, but has been applied in some Minnesota cases.

In the case entitled In re Welfare of All, 304 Minn. 254, 230 N.W.2d 574 (1975), the Minnesota Supreme Court examined the purpose and intent of the statute to determine when good cause could be found. The purpose of the statute is:

  • First, to enable the judicial system to legally remove a child from a destructive or unhealthy home environment without the consent of the natural parents, and,
  • second, to facilitate adoption procedures by providing a means by which existing parental rights may be voluntarily terminated.

In light of these purposes, the Minnesota Courts of Appeals have consistently ruled that a voluntary termination of parental rights for reasons other than to facilitate adoption works a substantial detrimental effect on a child, who will be forced to look solely to his custodial parent to meet all of his needs. See Matter of Welfare of J.D.N., 504 N.W.2d 54, 58 (Minn.App.1993).

The effect is that District Court Judges are extremely reluctant to terminate parent’s rights voluntarily and certainly not where the termination is not agreed upon by the custodial parent. It is also clear under Minnesota law that a non-custodial parent cannot claim that the termination of parental rights is being requested in order to remove the child from a destructive or unhealthy home environment, since the petitioning party is not custodial parent. The likelihood of obtaining an order terminating parental rights is also reduced if the custodial parent is provided public assistance through the county. Obviously, the county does not want to financially support children when a parent who has that obligation is available. Even a non-custodial parent’s lack of contact with a child and belief that the parent could not care for a child financially may insufficient to provide "good cause" for a voluntary termination of parental rights.

It is important to recognize that the reasons that may give rise to an involuntary termination of parental rights may not apply to a parent who seeks to voluntary termination his/her parental rights. They certainly would not apply if the custodial parent did not agree to the termination. For example, the abandonment provision only applies to involuntary terminations of parental rights -- not voluntary ones.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

The parent-child relationship is a fundamental right of all persons. As a result, the burden of proof necessary to terminate parental rights is quite high. Parental rights may only be terminated involuntarily if it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that one of the following apply:

  1. Abandonment. Abandonment takes place where there is an intention to forsake the duties of parenthood. In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 398 (Minn.App.1996). The Court may infer this intention when a parent fails to visit a child, refuses to accept responsibility for the child, and a fails to provide financial or emotional support to the child.

  2. Failure to Provide Parental Support. Rights may be terminated when there is clear and convincing evidence that a parent has substantially and repeatedly neglected to comply with the duties of a parent such as the duty to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development. This only applies if the parent has failed to provide support without good cause. In other words, parental rights cannot be terminated if the parent is physically and financially unable to provide support.

  3. Failure to Provide Financial Support. Rights may be terminated when a parent has been ordered to pay child support or to financially aid in the child’s birth and has continuously failed to do so despite having the financial ability to do so.

  4. Unfit Parents. A parent that is unfit may have parental rights terminated if it can be shown that the parent has demonstrated a consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship which renders that parent unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child. Significantly , there is also a presumption that a parent is unfit if the his/her parental rights were terminated to another child in the past.

  5. Foster Care Placement & Continued Parental Problems. Parental rights may be terminated if a child has been placed in foster care because of issues that make a parent unfit and following that placement reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions which would allow the child to be reunited with the parent. Additionally, rights may be terminated for child neglect to the degree that the child is placed in foster care.

  6. Egregious Harm to Child. If a child has experienced egregious harm in the parent’s care which indicates a lack of regard for the child’s well-being parental rights may be terminated.

  7. Conviction of Crimes. A parent’s conviction of certain crimes may also form a basis for the termination of that parent’s rights.

When making a termination decision, the court is to rely "not primarily on past history, but to a great extent upon the projected permanency of the parent’s inability to care for his or her child."

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Minnesota is a no-fault only state. The divorce petition must state either that the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days or more or that there is "serious marital discord" with no chance of reconciliation. All fault grounds, such as adultery, cruelty and insanity are no longer recognized in Minnesota.
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