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What are the grounds for terminating parental rights in WA state?

Tacoma, WA |

The bio mom gave up custody of her child when she was 3 mo old. My husband and I have been raising her ever since and she is now 26 mo. We want to adopt her and offered to have an open adoption with the bio mom to which she said no. She now claims that she wants the child back even though she has not exercised regular visits over the past 2 years and her contact with us has been infrequent and inconsistent at best. Her lifestyle and circumstances have not improved over the past 2 years. We want to move forward with terminating her rights so we can adopt the child. There has not been any sexual or physical abuse of the child from the bio mom because the child has lived with us nearly her entire life. But would the lack of involvement over the past 2 years be enough to terminate rights?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. There are no grounds and no basis in the law for such an action by a private party in Superior court. A parent may terminate his/her own rights in an adoption proceeding, but that does not mean that a party can request that another party's fundamental rights be terminated. You may allege in an adoption petition that the parent is unfit and seek to have his/her rights terminated, but that is very, very difficult to accomplish. Please note that there are no standard adoption forms either. They are drafted by attorneys based upon the individual facts of the case. Only the State may terminate parental rights in Juvenile court as part of a dependency proceeding. RCW 13.34. In short, a dependency action must first be filed by the State before a party may request a termination proceeding. There is no standard form because of the seriousness of the proceeding. As you may be aware, under RCW 26.50 a third party may gain custodial rights, but that does not equate to parental rights.

    In my opinion, the lack of Mom's involvement for the past two years would not even come close to the standard of proof needed to terminate parental rights. In Troxel v Granville, a US Supreme Court opinion, the Court invalidated Wa. state's Grandparent visitation statute noting the fundamental rights of parents as one of the most sacrosanct in our culture, rights that can only be stripped in the most egregious of cases.

    The information is for general information purposes only. Nothing stated above should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.

  2. The law is just one avenue of resolving this issue. I suggest you find a great mediator and child specialist. They might be the same person. Meet with the biological mother and get her to agree to mediation with the input of a find a child specialist. Try to find an interest based or transitional based mediator, one who isn't going to focus on "what the court would do" but rather, your respective interests (most likely maintaining the health of the child) and your relationships with the child. Your goal of course will be to get bio Mom to see the wisdom of terminating her parental rights. If she sees that her interests are preserved even if she does that, and that it is the best thing for the child, she might agree instead of trying to shove something down her throat. Call some family law lawyers who are collaboratively trained in your area for referrals. YOu could also consider the collaborative law approach but you'll likely have to pay for Mom's attorney too. However the collaborative attorneys in your area will know the type of mediators I'm talking about and good child specialists. Some child specialist will have mediation training too. You can find collaboratively trained attorneys in your area if you google Washington State Collaborative Law. Good luck. - Glenn

  3. Agree with above. Parental rights are extremely strong and terminating hers will be difficult without the help of an attorney. Perhaps call around to schedule a consultation with someone in your area to discuss the specific details of your case.

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