Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113 (G)(1) provides for termination of parental rights based upon the ground of abandonment. There are several definitions of abandonment that appear in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-102 (1)(A). Relevant to this article is T.C.A. 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii) defines abandonment as follows:
The child has been removed from the home of the parent or parents or the guardian or guardians as the result of a petition filed in the juvenile court in which the child was found to be a dependent and neglected child, as defined in § 37-1-102, and the child was placed in the custody of the department or a licensed child-placing agency, that the juvenile court found, or the court where the termination of parental rights petition is filed finds, that the department or a licensed child-placing agency made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child or that the circumstances of the child’s situation prevented reasonable efforts from being made prior to the child’s removal; and for a period of four (4) months following the removal, the department or agency has made reasonable efforts to assist the parent or parents or the guardian or guardians to establish a suitable home for the child, but that the parent or parents or the guardian or guardians have made no reasonable efforts to provide a suitable home and have demonstrated a lack of concern for the child to such a degree that it appears unlikely that they will be able to provide a suitable home for the child at an early date. The efforts of the department or agency to assist a parent or guardian in establishing a suitable home for the child may be found to be reasonable if such efforts exceed the efforts of the parent or guardian toward the same goal, when the parent or guardian is aware that the child is in the custody of the department.
To clarify this up a little, if DCS has petitioned your child or children dependent and neglected and has put them in custody of someone else, you have four (4) months to make “reasonable efforts” establish a “suitable home” or DCS (State) could terminate your parental rights for failing to do so.
Now there are several key words in this statute that you should pay close attention to. First, notice that “DCS or a child-placing agency” has an obligation here to also make reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of the child and to make reasonable efforts to assist the parent or parents to establish a suitable home for the child. In a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case upheld a prior ruling that the State has to do more than provide a list of potential housing resources to meet this reasonable burden. If one or both parents have a mental condition, it’s even more responsibility on the State to help the parents. However, if a child is removed from parent due to a prior severe abuse finding, the DCS may be relieved from their reasonable efforts burden.
Secondly, what is a “suitable home?” I can tell you that it is more than just an appropriate physical structure. Although, the physical structure is important; this also includes such things as a drug free environment and free of domestic violence. A suitable home is one that can provide care and attention to the child. Any of this or the like in the home will make it a home that is not suitable no matter if you secured a mansion as your home.
Lastly, what are “reasonable efforts” on the part of the parent(s)? With the simplest answer, the Court will look to such factors as efforts to secure stable work which will provide the means to get and keep a suitable home. The parent will need to be able to show that they are working or applying for work on a regular basis. Applying to one or two jobs in a four-month span will not cut it.
The legal standards of proof upon the State is clear and convincing evidence. This is a high standard meaning there is absolutely no doubt that this has taken place. Once this standard has been proven, the State will then need to show that it is in the best interest of the child not to be with the parent(s). Click here for some of the best interest factors.
If you are facing a challenge with termination of abandonment of any kind, you’ll need dedicated legal representation who will advocate for your rights. If you have specific questions on this topic or any other child custody questions, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615.473.1006.
Cartwright Law, LLC