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Termination of parental rights in Georgia

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In Georgia, when considering whether to terminate a parent's parental rights, one of the most important steps is giving that parent the full opportunity to present his/her case as to why his/her rights should not be terminated (assuming that parent wants to do so). A Georgia trial judge recently denied this right to a father in the case Hafer v. Lowry. Hafer v. Lowry, A12A2549 (2013).

In that case, the mother had sole custody of the child subsequent to the parties' divorce. She later remarried, and the stepfather sought to adopt the child, to which the father vehemently objected. The stepfather claimed that the father's rights should be terminated because, among other things, the father had failed to communicate with the child for over a year, and had not provided for the child as required in the divorce decree. Id. During the hearing, while the father's attorney was presenting evidence, the judge interrupted him to stop presentation of the evidence and ruled that the father had lost his parental rights. Id. at 2. The father's attorney objected, but the judge apparently disregarded the objection. Id.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the father and vacated the judge's order granting the stepparent adoption and terminating his parental rights. Specifically, the Court of Appeals emphasized, "the fundamental idea of due process is notice and an opportunity to be heard." Id.; quoting Gottschalk v. Gottschalk, 311 Ga. App. 304, 312 (2011). The Court held that "by foreclosing [the father's] right to show cause why his parental rights should not be terminated, the trial court deprived him of a meaningful opportunity to be heard." Hafer, at 4.

It does not matter if a party has a strong case, or if most of the evidence is against him. He still has a right to present all the evidence he has and to be fully heard on the matter. Otherwise,the ruling is contrary to due process and cannot stand.

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