Termination of Parental Rights or Surrender of Parental Rights: What's the Difference?

I have received many questions about the similarities and differences between a surrender of parental rights and a termination of parental rights. While the end result is often the same when the parental rights and responsibilities of a parent are permanently severed, there many differences to be aware of. 

Similarities

• Both are proceedings that can end in the permanent severing of all parental rights and responsibilities of a parent.

• Parents who are surrendering or may have their parental rights terminated are entitled to an attorney, and if they cannot afford one the court will appoint an attorney to represent them.

• Both proceedings are confidential.

Differences

• In a surrender of parental rights, all the parties agree to terminate the rights of a parent; a termination of parental rights can be either contested or uncontested. A TPR petition does not always result in a termination of one or both parents parental rights. 

• A parent in a surrender is entitled to counseling at the expense of the petitioning party about the parent’s decision to place the child up for adoption.

• The court is required to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the child in a termination proceeding; a surrender petition does not require the appointment of a guardian ad litem.

• A surrender of parental rights requires that there be a pending adoption, where a termination of parental rights does not. An adoption does not always follow a termination of parental rights case.  

• A termination proceeding requires that the court make a finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that grounds exist to terminate the parental rights of a parent and that it is in the best interests of the child. A surrender does not require such findings, only the agreement of the parties that the surrender take place.

• TPR cases are heard in the Circuit Court- Family Division, and surrender cases are either in the Circuit Court – Family Division or the Circuit Court – Probate Division depending on the specific facts of the case.

The Facts about Petitions to Terminate Parental Rights

Petitions to terminate parental rights involve fundamental parental rights and responsibilities. Because the statutory grounds to terminate must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and the judge must also find that it is in the child's best interests, it is important to understand the legalities and make sure that your case is well-presented. For more information, call Crusco Law Office, PLLC at 603-627-3668.

The temporary hearing: A critical phase of your case

Continuing the series of You Tube videos, this edition discusses a very important hearing in your case: the temporary hearing. Watch to find out why, and what you need to do to be prepared and help achieve a good result.

Here are the forms you need for a divorce temporary hearing with children:

Thanks to Jeremy Collins at Ellipsis Entertainment, you were great to work with on this series!

Best Interest Considerations for a Parenting Schedule

New Hampshire’s “best interests” statute lists out several factors that the court should use to determine best interests. Many of the factors are little wordy, and as a whole the statute misses some of the very basic issues that must be considered when creating a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interest.

When I had the chance to reread a wonderful guide from the Massachusetts Association of Family and Conciliation Courts titled Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, I loved the way that the factors were presented so simply. If I had the opportunity to rewrite RSA 461-A:6, I would use the AFCC's language:

  • The age, temperament and social adjustment of each child.
  • Any special needs of each child (medical, developmental, educational, emotional or social).
  • The quality of relationships between siblings and any other extended family members.
  • Each child’s daily schedule.
  • Caregiving responsibilities of each parent before the separation.
  • How you would like to share responsibilities both now and in the future.
  • Availability of each parent as a caregiver.
  • Potential flexibility of each parent’s work schedule.
  • Distance between each parent’s home, workplace and children’s schools.
  • The ability of parents to communicate and cooperate with each other.
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to learn basic caregiving skills such as feeding, changing and bathing a young child; preparing a child for daycare or school; taking responsibility for helping with homework; assessing and attending to each child’s special emotional and social needs.

Here are two good examples of why the basics can be so important in the determination of best interests:

1)      Both parents are good caregivers and share responsibilities for the children both before the separation and after. However, the parents live forty-five minutes from each other. Although each parent is able to adequately provide and care for the children, the distance that they live from each other prevents implementing a shared schedule during the school year. It usually is not feasible to have a parent making a forty-five minute commute with the children to school.

2)      Parents are both good parents and caregivers, each dedicated to the children and able to appropriately care for them. One parent works from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday, with flexibility to work from home if the children are sick or have the day off from school. The other parent works second shift, from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm with little flexibility to take time off from work or be available for the children during work hours. The children’s best interests require that they be with the parent who is available after school and in the evenings to prepare dinner, help with homework, and oversee baths and bedtime.

Neither of these scenarios endorses the parenting of one parent over the other or concludes that one parent is unfit; rather, it is a finding that one parent’s work schedule makes them more available or that the distance between the two homes is too much to allow for a shared schedule.

Of course, under RSA 461-A:6 courts have the ability to consider any other factor not listed that the court finds relevant, but I think that these factors from the AFCC provide a plainer picture of the considerations that a GAL might use to make recommendations, or the court might use in crafting a parenting plan

Mission Impossible: Family Division Admin Order 2011-03

Blog posts have been sparse lately, and here's why: Administrative Order Number 2011-03. I've posted several times about the impending demise of the GAL fund, and it is finally coming to fruition. Judge Kelly's administrative order, issued on April 19, 2011, requires GALs in  all GAL fund  marital cases (this excludes abuse/neglect, TPR, guardianship and CHINs) to complete investigations, file final reports, final billing and withdrawals by June 1, 2011.

And let me tell you, that is a ridiculous amount of work to complete in just over a month. It feels like finals week in college or law school, only worse. Instead of finishing up five term papers, I have thirteen reports. It is extremely frustrating to be thrust involuntarily into such a situation because the court system cannot be properly funded by the legislature. 

In the end though, it is the children of indigent New Hampshire Families who will suffer the consequences. They will no longer have a voice in the courtroom, and judges will have to sift through pro se he said she said in trying to determine a child's best interest. And that's a shame for New Hampshire.

Appeal in the New Hampshire homeschooling case: Kurowski & Voydatch

Back in September 2009, the so-called New Hampshire homeschooling case (In the Matter of Martin Kurowski and Brenda Voydatch) grabbed national headlines when the court ordered the parties’ child to attend public school instead of continuing with home schooling. Home school supporters decried the decision, arguing that the order trampled the mother’s constitutional rights to raise and educate her child as she saw fit. The problem with that line of thinking is that it fails to acknowledge that the child has two parents, not one. As an equal decision maker, the father has rights too. When the parents could not agree on matters of education and religion, the family court decided.

The case is currently on appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and headed to oral arguments on January 6, 2011 at 9:00 am. The parties have submitted their briefs, including an Amicus Curiae brief from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).  

The mother, through her attorney John Simmons, filed an appeal and brief with the New Hampshire Supreme Court, asking the court to consider the following questions:

 

  • Whether the trial court erred in modifying a parenting plan, to order a home schooled child to attend public school, by considering the “best interests of the child”, where none of the statutory circumstances permitting modification, as set forth in RSA 461-A:11, were present, and the court made such finding.
  •  Whether the trial court erroneously concluded that it was in the best interests of a home-schooled child to be sent to public school where the court’s decision was based on its own definition of the purpose of education that was unsupported by RSA 461-A:6,I or by any other law.
  •  Whether the trial court’s decision should be reversed because it committed plain error in relying on the opinion testimony of a guardian ad litem who was not qualified as an expert and who’s opinion was not based on a rational perception within the meaning of Rule 701 of the New Hampshire Rules of Evidence.
  • Whether the trial court’s order that a home schooled child attend public school to expose her to diverse points of view was erroneous because it violated the fundamental parental right to control a child’s education guaranteed by the United States Constitution, where the evidence showed that the child was already getting a superior education and the State’s purported goal could be achieved by a less restrictive means.
  •  Whether the trial court’s order that a home schooled child attend public school because she was too rigid in her religious beliefs was erroneous because it interfered with the child’s right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • Whether the trial court’s order that a home schooled child attend public school should be reversed because it relief on the testimony of a guardian ad litem who was biased against the religion practiced by the child and her mother.

The father, through his attorney Joshua Gordon, submitted a reply brief. HSLDA submitted an amicus curiae brief. Stay tuned for a blog post reviewing the arguments and briefs.

Here comes the Merrimack Family Division

The Merrimack Family Division is almost here! The Judicial Branch posted the following announcements on its website:

The Hillsborough South marital department will be closed to the public except for emergency filings from Monday, December 6 through Thursday, December 9. The closing will allow staff uninterrupted time to process cases in preparation for the reopening of the department on Friday December 10th as part of the Merrimack Family Division.

The Merrimack Family Division will serve the towns of Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield. In addition, the Hillsborough South Superior Court docket, one of the last courts to make the transition into the Family Division, will transfer over to the Merrimack Family Division. The courthouse is located on Baboosic Lake Road in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

Upcoming court closures and furlough days

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. On days where the rest of the New Hampshire government remains open for business, the entire Judicial Branch will close and its employees will take unpaid furlough days in order to accomplish expenditure reduction. The Supreme Court explains these closures in Administrative Orders 2010-03 and 2010-05. The upcoming furlough days, in addition to the three days this spring, are:

  • Friday, July 2, 2010
  • Friday, August 6, 2010
  • Friday, September 3, 2010
  • Friday, October 8, 2010
  • Friday, November 12, 2010
  • Thursday, December 23, 2010

In addition to the furlough days, the courts have reduced their public office hours in order to reduce delays in processing orders and pleadings. In other words, so that it would not continue to take eight weeks or more for some courts to process and mail court orders, the clerk's office will close the front desk or window and turn off the telephone lines to concentrate on processing the orders. The public will not be able to reach the court during these times, though the court will remain open for scheduled hearing and mediations. The family division closures are as follows:

Note: All partial closure times are from 12 - 4 PM unless otherwise stated.

 
Brentwood Family: Wednesdays
Claremont District/Family: Mondays
Concord District/Family: Fridays
Dover District/Family: Fridays
Exeter District: Wednesdays
Franklin District/Family: Fridays
Hooksett District/Family: Fridays
Furlough Weeks - Thursdays
Plus 6/10 and 7/8 (and not Fridays these weeks)
Laconia District/Family: Fridays (1 - 4 PM)
Lebanon District/Family: Fridays
Littleton District/Family: Fridays
Manchester District/Family: Fridays
Nashua District Fridays (1 - 4 PM)
Furlough Weeks - Thursdays (1 - 4 PM)
Ossipee District/Family: Alternating Fridays (beginning on 5/7/10)
Plymouth District/Family: Fridays
Salem District/Family: Thursdays (1 - 4 PM) except furlough weeks

Termination of parental rights in New Hampshire

“Surely there can be few loses more grievous than the abrogation of parental rights.” Those words are as true today as they were when Supreme Court Justice Blackmun first wrote them in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services in 1981. Unfortunately, there are times, however grievous, when it is necessary to terminate parental rights against a parents wishes. There are also times when rigorous defense against a petition to terminate parental rights is warranted.

The United States Supreme Court has long recognized the right and the heavy responsibility of the states to terminate the parent-child relationship when there is cause to do so. In New Hampshire, RSA 170-C provides for involuntary termination of parental rights, and the probate courts, and now also the family divisions, have exclusive jurisdiction over such termination of parental rights matters. If the court orders a termination of parental rights, the effect is to sever all legal rights, privileges and duties between the parent and the child. The two become legal strangers in the eyes of the law, with neither parent or child owing any obligations to the other at any point in the future.

 

A termination petition may be filed, pursuant to RSA 170-C:4 by:

 

a.       Either parent;

b.      The child’s guardian or legal custodian;

c.       The child’s foster parent if the child has resided with that foster parent continuously for 24 months; or

d.      An “authorized agency,” which in termination of parental rights petitions would be the Division for Children, Youth and Families, or DCYF.

 

Additionally, the statute sets forth limited conditions on which such a petition may be brought. RSA 170-C:5 lists six circumstances under which a petition for termination of parental rights will be granted:

 

a.       The parents have abandoned the child

b.      The parents have substantially and continuously neglected to provide the child with the care necessary for mental, emotional, or physical health when they are financially able to do so

c.       The parent(s) have failed to correct conditions that lead to a violation of the Child Protection Act, within twelve months of such a finding

d.      The parent is, and will continue to be, mentally incapable, either by deficiency or illness, of caring for the child

e.       The parent knowingly or willingly caused, or allowed to be caused, severe sexual, physical, emotional or mental abuse of the child

f.       The parent has been convicted of any of the following crimes:

a.       The murder of another child of the parent, a sibling or step-sibling of the child, or the child's other parent;

b.      The manslaughter of another child of the parent, a sibling or step-sibling of the child, the child's other parent;

c.       Attempted murder of the child, step-child, sibling or other parent; or

d.      A felony assault which resulted in injury to the child, a sibling or step-sibling of the child, or the child's other parent.

 

Courts will consider the best interest of the child in rendering a decision, sometimes appointing a Guardian Ad Litem to represent that interest. However, even if the court determines that the child’s best interests are served by terminating a parent’s rights, that finding alone is not sufficient to order termination. A court must make an explicit finding under the statute that one or more of the above criteria has been satisfied. The United States Supreme Court states: in Santosky v. Kramer:

The fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody, and management of their child is protected by the 14th Amendment, and does not evaporate simply because they have not been model parents or have lost temporary custody of their child to the State.

The Santosky court also held that, except for clear cases of abuse, the government should not separate children from their families or countermand parental authority.

 

Because termination affects a fundamental constitutional right for parents to raise their children as they see fit, New Hampshire courts have increased the burden on the petitioner to prove that TPR is appropriate. In State v. Robert H., the New Hampshire Supreme Court made it clear that for the termination of parental rights, the standard to be imposed is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that 170-C:5 has been satisfied. It is fitting that the petitioner must meet this highest burden as “the rights of parents (over the family) are held to be natural, essential and inherent rights, within the meaning of the New Hampshire Constitution,” the New Hampshire Supreme Court states. “The permanent termination of the rights of parents over their children is even more final than involuntary commitment or delinquency proceedings” both of which require that heightened standard; no other standard would be appropriate.  

 

The above discussion merely scratches the surface of these intricate and complicated issues. Each case has its own set of unique facts and circumstances. The termination of parental rights is extremely serious, and for that reason, as well as those cited above, it is very important that you retain competent counsel if you are involved in a TPR action, whether as the parent or the petitioner. Contact Crusco Law Office, PLLC for further information. 

 

Crusco Law Office, PLLC law clerk, Daniel McLaughlin, contributed to this post.

Where can I take the child impact seminar?

As discussed in a previous blog post, in New Hampshire every parent is required to take the Child Impact Seminar within 45 days of the date that the Respondent (formerly known as Defendant) is served with the divorce or parenting petition. I have received a few e-mails recently asking where to sign up, so I thought I would post the telephone numbers and websites for each local provider here. There is also additional information about the Child Impact Seminar available on the Family Division website.

BELKNAP COUNTY          Laconia 524-1100 Genesis Behavioral Health

CARROLL COUNTY          Conway 447-2111 Carroll County Mental Health Services

Wolfeboro 447-2111 Carroll County Mental Health Services

CHESHIRE COUNTY         Keene 355-3071 Cheshire Mediation

COOS COUNTY                Groveton 636-2555 Northern Human Services

GRAFTON COUNTY          Lebanon 448-0126 West Central Behavioral Health

Littleton 444-5358 Northern Human Services

Plymouth 536-1118 Genesis Behavioral Health

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY Manchester 628-7787 The Mental Health Center

Nashua 598-7155 x 3900 Community Council of Nashua

MERRIMACK COUNTY      Concord 226-7505- x 3262 Riverbend Parent Child Center

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY    Exeter 431-6703 Seacoast Mental Health Center

Portsmouth 431-6703 Seacoast Mental Health Center

Salem 434-1577 CLM Behavioral Health

STRAFFORD COUNTY      Dover 749-3244 x732 Community Partners

SULLIVAN COUNTY          Claremont 448-0126 West Central Behavioral Health

Newport 448-0126 West Central Behavioral Health

 

 

 

 

What is a First Appearence?

A “First Appearance” occurs in a New Hampshire Family Division court in a divorce involving children or in a parenting petition case. The judge or marital master will talk about the court process, what to expect, and how the parties might settle their issues without litigation. At this time the court may refer individual cases to mediation. Mediation is an alternative process to litigation where a trained neutral third party helps negotiate and resolve disputed issues.

The court will hand out a First Appearance Highlights form that summarizes all of the information given at the First Appearance.

Below are some of the topics covered in a First Appearance:

· Court Process

· Case Management

· Child Impact Program

· Case Manager

· Guardian ad Litem

· Mediation

· Legal Representation

· Parenting Plans

· Child Support

Blog Credit: Marissa L. Ulloa, Crusco Law Office Law Clerk