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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:
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:
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."
When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
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