Parental rights are among the most fundamental rights that a person has. The right to care for and have authority over one’s children is something the courts in South Carolina take seriously. Parental rights can be terminated. However, before that happens, a case must go through several steps which are designed to protect both the parents and the interests of the child.

If you are seeking to terminate a parent’s rights, or if you face a termination of parental rights petition, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney as early as possible to make sure you understand what is involved. At McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC, we work closely with our clients to pursue the desired outcomes that will help them to build stronger families. Contact us today to discuss your parental rights case in a confidential consultation.

Who Can File a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights in South Carolina?

A petition to terminate parental rights (TPR) cannot be brought by just anyone. According to South Carolina law, only an “interested party” or the Department of Social Services (DSS) may file a TPR petition. In the petition, the person making the allegations giving rise to the request must set forth their relationship to the child or their interest in the matter. In most cases, the following individuals may have standing to file:

  • A grandparent
  • Foster parents
  • Adult siblings
  • An informal caregiver.

However, the following people generally may not bring a TPR petition:

  • Persons under a legal disability
  • Those with certain felony convictions
  • People with convictions involving sexual offenses or child abuse
  • People with a history of domestic violence convictions
  • Unrelated individuals without a direct legal interest in the matter
  • A former parent whose rights were terminated already
  • Anyone unfit to serve as a parent or guardian for other reasons.

What Are the Grounds for Terminating a Parent’s Rights?

Under S.C. Code § 63-7-2570, South Carolina sets out 12 grounds for termination of parental rights. Those grounds are:

  • Unsafe home – Ultimately, the courts hope to keep children with their natural parents. But if it becomes clear that the home life cannot be made safe within a year due to a consistent and repetitive pattern of behavior, then TPR may be warranted.
  • Foster care for more than six months – The child has been in foster care for more than six months, and the parent has not taken sufficient measures to fix the problem that led to the removal.
  • No visitation – The child has lived apart from the parent for more than six months, and the parent has not made reasonable attempts to visit the child.
  • Failure to support – The child lived apart from the parent for at least six months, during which time the parent intentionally refused to pay support to the child.
  • Presumptive father – It is determined that the presumed father is not the true biological father, and it is in the child’s best interests to have that person’s parental rights terminated.
  • Addiction – The parent has a diagnosed addiction problem that is probably not going to change. Due to the addiction problem, the parent won’t be able to provide suitable care. Multiple attempts at court-ordered treatment or rehabilitation have failed. (However, the disabling condition can’t be the sole reason for terminating parental rights.)
  • Abandonment – The parent has willfully withheld physical, emotional and financial support for the child.
  • Continuous foster care – The child has been in continuous foster care for at least 15 of the last 22 months.
  • Physical abuse – The parent has pleaded guilty to or been convicted of abuse of the child (or any other child), leading to hospital admission or death. This includes any convictions where the parent is involved as an accessory.
  • Murder – If one parent murders the other parent, then it is grounds to terminate the offender’s parental rights.
  • Sexual abuse – Where the baby is conceived through criminal sexual conduct with a minor, it may be grounds for TPR (except in limited situations where neither party is over 18 or under 14).
  • Death of other children – The parent is convicted of or pleads guilty to homicide or manslaughter of any other of his or her children.

What Happens If a Court Terminates Parental Rights?

When the court terminates parental rights, it is a permanent decision. All of the parent’s rights to the minor child are severed. This means that the parent loses all rights to:

  • Make decisions for the child
  • Visit the child (unless permitted by the legal guardian)
  • Inherit from the child.

However, the opposite is not true. The child maintains a right to inherit from the biological parent unless and until a legal adoption takes place.

DSS will have to provide the court with a plan to the court showing how DSS intends to find a permanent placement for the child. This must happen within 30 days of TPR. Within 60 days, DSS must show that the permanency plan has been effectively put in place for the child. The court carefully monitors this process.

What Happens If a Court Does Not Terminate Parental Rights?

If, on the other hand, the court decides not to terminate parental rights, then there will be a hearing held within 15 days of that determination. At the hearing, the court will have to decide whether to return the child to the parent. This requires that the parent file a counterclaim during the proceeding which seeks custody of the child. The court will often require a permanency plan to be put in place or require DSS to offer protective supervisions for up to a year in order to monitor whether the child’s return home remains in the child’s best interests.

How Can Our Rock Hill Family Law Attorneys Help You?

In general, two groups of people may require the help of a lawyer during a TPR matter. First, there are those individuals who may be seeking to protect a child. These parties can include grandparents, adult siblings and foster parents who are hoping to eventually adopt a child who has been in long-term placement. Then there are parents who may be struggling to keep their parental rights despite serious challenges.

Regardless of which group you may fall into, the experienced family law attorneys of McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in a parental rights case.