Termination of parental rights (TPR) is the severance by court order of the legal relationship between a minor child and one or both of its parents. This can be done involuntarily or voluntarily. Should it happen, the child and parents become legal strangers. Because of the finality of this proceeding, a court will hold a hearing on a TPR petition. At the hearing, interested parties, represented by attorneys if they wish, have the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses to support their positions. The petitioner has the obligation to prove to the court that a TPR would be in the child’s best interests. Each state articulates specific evidentiary criteria. In 2019, parental rights were terminated 71,300 times in the United States.

According to the Children’s Bureau, CYF/ACF/HHS (2021), the “most common statutory grounds for determining parental unfitness include the following:

  • Severe or chronic abuse or neglect.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Abuse or neglect of other children in the household.
  • Abandonment of the child.
  • Long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent(s).
  • Long-term alcohol- or drug-induced incapacity of the parent(s).
  • Failure to support or maintain contact with the child.
  • Involuntary termination of the rights of the parent to another child.”