In Florida, parents generally cannot voluntarily terminate parental rights unless there is a pending adoption. Where termination of parental rights is sought in connection with adoption, the parents must execute a written surrender of the child and consent to the entry of an order that gives custody of the child to the adoptive parents or adoption agency.
Where termination of parental rights is not sought in connection with an adoption, the termination is likely involuntary. An involuntary termination proceeding may be initiated by the Department of Children and Families, a guardian ad litem, a licensed adoption agency, or any person with knowledge of facts that would support a finding that an individual’s parental rights should be terminated.
An involuntary termination proceeding commences upon the filing of a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights. The Petition must include one or more statutory grounds for termination. Statutory grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights include: abandonment of a child, abuse of a child, neglect of a child, incarceration of a parent, and/or a parent’s chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance.
An evidentiary hearing will take place after the filing of the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights, during which the court will allow testimony and evidence related to the allegations set forth in the Petition. During the evidentiary hearing, the moving party must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that: (1) there is one or more statutory grounds for termination; (2) termination is in the manifest best interest of the child; and (3) termination is the least restrictive means of protecting the child from harm. If the moving party fails to present clear and convincing evidence of any one of the three factors set forth above, the trial court must deny the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights.