It is well established in Tennessee that parents have “a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children.” However, parental rights are not absolute and can be terminated when there is clear and convincing evidence justifying the termination. Before a parent’s rights can be terminated, it must be proven that the parent is unfit or that substantial harm to the child will result if parental rights are not terminated.
Tenn. Code Ann. §36-1-113 (g) (1) establishes abandonment as a ground for termination of parental rights, and Tennessee law defines abandonment as follows:
(1) (A) For purposes of terminating the parental . . . rights of parent(s) . . . of a child to that child in order to make that child available for adoption, ‘abandonment’ means that: (i) For a period of four (4) consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of a proceeding or pleading to terminate the parental rights of the parent(s) . . . of the child who is the subject of the petition for termination of parental rights or adoption, that the parent(s) . . . either have willfully failed to visit or have willfully failed to support or have willfully failed to make reasonable payments toward the support of the child;
A person acts willfully (willfully failing to visit or support) if that person is aware of his or her duty to support, has a capacity to provide support, makes no attempt to provide support, and has no justifiable excuse for not supporting.
This is only the beginning of the issue. Next, the court must determine that termination is in the child's best interest.
Obviously, this is a very emotionally charged and factually specific issue and should best be discussed with a knowledgeable attorney.
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