3 legal options to consider when facing termination of parental rights

If you’ve been off track in bringing your children home, you may feel that you’ve already lost. But it’s important to talk to your lawyer about exceptions to the Adoption and Safe Families Act that may allow you to continue working toward reunification. Each state has different rules. Below are some New York state exceptions you should talk to your lawyer about.

Termination of parental rights is not always mandatory:

Agencies can decide not to change the goal to adoption, even though a child has been in care for 12 months in a row or 15 out of 22 months.

In New York, agencies aren’t required to file a termination of parental rights when a child is in care with a relative; is 14 or older and doesn’t want to be adopted; when a parent is very close to bringing a child safely home; or is incarcerated or in inpatient drug treatment and is doing everything to maintain a positive relationship with the child.


This doesn’t mean that an agency won’t file to terminate parental rights, explains lawyer Margaret Burt. It just means

that if they believe there are “compelling reasons” not to, they don’t have to.


Still time to get it right:

Even when the goal has been changed to adoption, a judge can grant a “suspended judgment”— meaning they can give a parent more time.

Judges can grant a suspended judgment when they think it’s in the best interest of the child. But it’s important to know that that time is limited, typically to one year.

If parents agree to a suspended judgment after a TPR is filed, they will have to sign a statement admitting that they permanently neglected their child. After that, they’ll have a second chance to bring their child home. If they don’t succeed in the time given, though, their parental rights can be terminated without a trial.

Conditional surrender:


If the agency has filed to terminate parental rights, you can sign a “conditional surrender” instead or go to trial and fight. When you’re deciding whether to fight “the most important thing,” says Burt, “is to make sure that you’re having quality discussions with your attorney about the strength of your case.”

In New York, if you lose, you also have a right to an appeal. Some parents win. But, notes Burt, it’s important to know that the success rate of appeals is low.

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