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The 12 Statutory Grounds To Terminate Parental Rights In Florida

Posted by attorney Kurt Lee

Being a parent is perhaps the most important role a person can play in life. Oftentimes this role is performed well; but, sadly, it is sometimes performed poorly. In these latter instances, Florida law provides a method for terminating the parental rights of unfit parents.

In Florida, there are 12 statutory grounds upon which the Court might terminate parental rights. See Fla. Stat., s. 39.806. Parental rights may be terminated if any of the following circumstances are proven by clear and convincing evidence:

(a) When the parent or parents have voluntarily executed a written surrender of the child and consented to the entry of an order giving custody of the child to the department for subsequent adoption and the department is willing to accept custody of the child.

(b) Abandonment or when the identity or location of the parent or parents is unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent search within 60 days.

(c) When the parent or parents engaged in conduct toward the child or toward other children that demonstrates that the continuing involvement of the parent or parents in the parent-child relationship threatens the life, safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child irrespective of the provision of services (e.g., a case plan from a child welfare agency).

(d) When the parent of a child is incarcerated in a state or federal correctional institution and either:

1. The period of time for which the parent is expected to be incarcerated will constitute a substantial portion of the period of time before the child will attain the age of 18 years; or

2. The incarcerated parent has been determined by the court to be a violent career criminal, a habitual violent felony offender, or a sexual predator; has been convicted of first degree or second degree murder or a sexual battery that constitutes a capital, life, or first degree felony violation; or has been convicted of an offense in another jurisdiction which is substantially similar to one of the foregoing offenses; or

3. The court determines by clear and convincing evidence that continuing the parental relationship with the incarcerated parent would be harmful to the child and, for this reason, termination of the parental rights of the incarcerated parent is in the best interest of the child.

(e) When a child has been adjudicated dependent, a case plan has been filed with the court, and:

1. The child continues to be abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parent or parents.

2. The parent or parents have materially breached the case plan.

(f) The parent or parents engaged in egregious conduct (i.e., abuse, abandonment, neglect, or any other conduct that is deplorable, flagrant, or outrageous by a normal standard of conduct) or had the opportunity and capability to prevent and knowingly failed to prevent egregious conduct that threatens the life, safety, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child or the child’s sibling.

(g) The parent or parents have subjected the child or another child to aggravated child abuse, sexual battery or sexual abuse, or chronic abuse.

(h) The parent or parents have committed the murder, manslaughter, aiding or abetting the murder, or conspiracy or solicitation to murder the other parent or another child, or a felony battery that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or to another child.

(i) The parental rights of the parent to a sibling of the child have been terminated involuntarily.

(j) The parent or parents have a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance which renders them incapable of caring for the child, and have refused or failed to complete available treatment for such use during the 3-year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition for termination of parental rights.

(k) A test administered at birth that indicated that the child’s blood, urine, or meconium contained any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance or metabolites of such substances, the presence of which was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant, and the biological mother of the child is the biological mother of at least one other child who was adjudicated dependent after a finding of harm to the child’s health or welfare due to exposure to a controlled substance or alcohol, after which the biological mother had the opportunity to participate in substance abuse treatment.

(l) On three or more occasions the child or another child of the parent or parents has been placed in out-of-home care pursuant to this chapter, and the conditions that led to the child’s out-of-home placement were caused by the parent or parents.

“A termination action can sever the rights of one parent without affecting the rights of the other parent. If the rights of both parents are terminated, the state assumes legal custody of the child along with the responsibility for finalizing a permanent placement for the child, either through adoption or guardianship, within a reasonable amount of time." (

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