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What should I know about terminating parental rights?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Read this in: Spanish / Español

Termination of parental rights in Georgia

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What does it mean to have your parental rights terminated?

In family law, parental rights mean a parent's rights to make important decisions and take certain actions for their child.

 

If the court orders a termination of your parental rights, this means that you lose any rights to your child. You will not have the right to visit, contact, or have custody of your child. You will not have the authority to make decisions about your child, your child’s earnings, or your child’s property. Since you will no longer have custody, someone else can legally adopt your child.

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Where does a termination of parental rights happen?

There are two courts where parental rights can be terminated in Georgia. Parental rights may be terminated in: 

  • Superior Court through an adoption. This may include private adoptions or step-parent adoptions. 

  • Juvenile Court when a petition for the termination of parental rights is filed. These cases may be connected with an adoption or may not.  In most Juvenile Court cases, this petition is filed by the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) after:

    • There was a determination of “dependency” by the court. In Georgia, a child is considered “dependant” if the court finds:

      •  They have been abused or neglected and are in need of the protection of the court; 

      • They have been placed for care or adoption in violation of law; or 

      • They do not have a parent, guardian, or legal custodian.

    • The child is already in state custody.

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What are my rights if my parental rights are being terminated?

You have the right to be notified of the petition and the hearing. When a petition to terminate parental rights is filed, a summons must be sent the child’s legal and biological parents. If you are a biological father who is not the legal father of a child, you still have the right to be notified UNLESS:

  1. The mother submits an affidavit that she does not know the identity of the biological father, AND

  2. The court finds no evidence that the biological father:

    1. Lived with the child;

    2. Contributed to the child's support;

    3. Made any attempt to legitimate the child; or

    4. Provided support or medical care for the mother either during her pregnancy or during her hospitalization for the birth of the child.

  3. There is no entry in the putative father registry: 

    1. acknowledging paternity of the child or 

    2. indicating possible paternity of a child of the child's mother.

 

If your parental rights are being challenged in Juvenile Court, you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to a court appointed attorney. In Superior Court, you do not have the right to a court appointed attorney.

 

You have the right to consent in writing to the termination or voluntarily surrender of your child for adoption.

 

Will the court ever take the parent’s rights away without their consent?

Under Georgia Law, the court may terminate parental rights when the parent’s actions have harmed or could harm the child.

 

Situations that could cause harm include:

  • The child has been abandoned by their parent;

  • The child has experienced aggravated circumstances (ex. long-term incarceration of the parent);

  • The parent failed to follow a child support order for 1 year or longer;

  • The child has not received adequate parental care; or

  • There is a serious threat to the child’s mental, emotional, or physical safety.

 

After considering these issues, the court will determine what is in the best interest of the child based on:

  • The child’s attachment, security, and familiarity with their parent;

  • The child’s desire to stay with their parent;

  • The child’s need for stability; and

  • The child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional well-being.

 

The court may legally terminate the parent’s rights without their consent if the court decides it would be in the child's best interest.

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What are my responsibilities if I lose parental rights?

Even if your rights are terminated, you still have the responsibility to provide financial support for your child until an adoption takes place.

 

Also, your child can still inherit from you until they are adopted.

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Contents


Can a parent voluntarily surrender their rights?

Yes. Under Georgia Law, a parent may voluntarily surrender their parental rights. A parent may decide that it is in the best interests of the child, so that the child can receive the care of someone else.

 

A parent may surrender their rights for several reasons. They include:

  • To allow the other parent’s spouse to adopt the child 

  • To allow the child to be placed for adoption through a child-placing agency 

  • To allow the child to be adopted by a relative 

  • To allow the child to be adopted by a non-relative who will care for the child

 

Once a parent gives up their parental rights, they also lose the right to receive notice about any legal issues about the adoption of their child.

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Can parents change their mind after they have already surrendered their rights?

After the parents sign the form to surrender their rights, they have a grace period of 4 days to change their mind. If the parents change their mind, they must give written notice.

 

This written notice must be delivered to the child placing agency by:

  • Delivered in person

  • Mailed by registered mail

  • Mailed by FedEx/UPS (statutory overnight delivery)

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Last Review and Update: Mar 27, 2022
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