Appeals Court Clarifies Standard for Parental Abandonment Finding, Revives Grandparents’ Adoption Petition

A recent 4th District Court of Appeal ruling clarified the proper factors for determining if a parent has sufficiently abandoned his child to allow the courts to terminate his parental rights and gave a pair of grandparents’ effort to adopt their grandchild new life. The appeals court’s ruling explained that, in order to terminate a parent’s legal rights to his child, the law requires proof that the parent showed an intent to reject his parental obligations, but it does not necessarily require evidence that the parent willfully disregarded the child’s safety.

S. fathered a child in 2002. In 2010, the child’s mother died. The mother’s parents then went to court seeking to adopt the child. As part of that process, they also asked the court to terminate the father’s parental rights. As part of their termination request, the grandparents argued that the father had abandoned the child, both financially and emotionally.

The trial court held a hearing. At the hearing’s conclusion, the judge ruled that the grandparents had proven that the father indeed had financially and emotionally abandoned his child. Nevertheless, the judge refused to terminate the father’s rights and denied the grandparents’ adoption petition. So, what went wrong? According to the trial court, the law also required the grandparents to prove that the father “willfully disregarded” the child’s safety, and they did not offer evidence on this point.

On appeal, the 4th DCA reversed that ruling, ordering the trial court to terminate the father’s rights. The appeals court explained that the Florida Statutes define parental abandonment as a parent’s making so little effort to provide support or communicate with the child, despite having the ability to do so, that it demonstrates “an intent to reject parental responsibilities.” The language regarding willful disregard for the child’s safety is contained in a section where the statutes provide the courts with a list of several factors that judges should take into consideration regarding whether or not a parent has abandoned a child.

In other words, the law did not require the grandparents of S.’s child to prove that S. willfully disregarded the child’s safety. It merely presented disregarding the child’s safety as one criterion among many that the courts are required to weigh when making an abandonment determination. In S.’s case, the trial court’s findings showed the necessary level of harm to rule that the father had abandoned the child, even without having endangered the child’s safety. Specifically, many years had passed since S. had been a part of his child’s life. This made it clear that the child had been sufficiently abandoned by the father as to warrant forfeiture of the father’s rights. “The child’s right to a stable home environment provided by the grandparents must prevail,” the court wrote.

Adoptions can be exciting events, but they may be complicated if they also require a proceeding to terminate the legal rights of a parent. For reliable advice and representation, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys can help you ensure that your adoption process clears all the necessary legal hurdles.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Failure to Foster Relationship with Child’s Father Not Grounds for Mandating Psych Evaluation of Mother, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 19, 2014
Couple’s Agreement Didn’t Contract Away Child’s Right to Receive Support, Survives Wife’s Challenge, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 14, 2014