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Termination of Parental Rights
In Georgia, there are three main reasons why a father or mother’s parental rights may be terminated:
1. The parent or parents’ consent to the termination of rights in order to facilitate an adoption. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-94(b)(1) and 19-8-4, et seq.
2. A parent has wantonly and willfully failed to comply with an order obligating that parent to pay child support for a period of 12 months or longer. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-94(b)(2).
3. The parent or parents have abandoned the child, or the child was left in a circumstance that renders it impossible to determine the identity of the child’s parent(s), and the parent(s) do not come forward to claim the child within three months from the time the child was found abandoned. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-94(b)(3).
There is a two-step procedural process that a court must undertake in a termination of parental rights proceeding. First, the court must determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence of parental misconduct or parental inability. For a Georgia juvenile court to make the first determination, that parental misconduct or inability exists, four elements must be present: 1) the child must be found to be a deprived child (meaning a child without proper parental care, subsistence, education, etc.), 2) that the lack of parental care suffered by the child is the cause of the child’s deprived status, 3) that the actions of the parent resulting in the deprivation of the child are likely to continue, and 4) the continued deprivation will like cause serious physical, mental, emotional or moral harm to the child or children involved. See O.C.G.A. §§ 15-11-94(b)(4)(A)(i) – (iv). All four of these factors must be proven in order for a court to find that parental misconduct or inability is present. If the court determines that evidence of parental misconduct or inability indeed exists, the court must then determine whether termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child or children involved. In the Interest of J.M.C., 201 Ga.App. 173 (1991).
Unlike actions for divorce, alimony, or child custody, actions for the termination of parental rights or the termination of the legal parent-child relationship must be brought in Juvenile Court, as Georgia Juvenile Courts have the exclusive jurisdiction or authority to preside over and render orders in parental rights termination actions. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-28(a) and Amerson v. Vandiver, 285 G. 49 (2009). Additionally, as actions for the termination of parental rights are determined by Juvenile courts, there are certain specific procedures and guidelines that must be complied with in order to successfully initiate an action for the termination of parental rights in Georgia.