Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights - Delaware

Date: July 2021

Circumstances That Are Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 13, § 1103

The procedure for termination of parental rights may be initiated whenever it appears to be in the child's best interests and that one or more of the following grounds exist:

  • The child has been abandoned.
  • The parent has abandoned a baby in accordance with title 16, § 907A and failed to manifest an intent to exercise parental rights within 30 days.
  • The parent is found by the court to be mentally incompetent and, from evidence of two qualified psychiatrists selected by the court, found to be unable to discharge parental responsibilities in the foreseeable future.
  • The parent has been found by a court of competent jurisdiction to have done any of the following:
    • Committed a felony-level offense against a person in which the victim was a child
    • Aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit an offense described above
    • Committed or attempted to commit the offense of dealing in children, as set forth in title 11, § 1100
    • Committed the felony-level offense of endangering the welfare of a child
  • The parent's parental rights over a sibling of the child have been involuntarily terminated in a prior proceeding.
  • The parent has subjected a child to torture, chronic abuse, sexual abuse, and/or life-threatening abuse.
  • The child has suffered unexplained serious physical injury, near death, or death under such circumstances that indicate that such injuries, near death, or death resulted from the intentional or reckless conduct or willful neglect of the parent.

A procedure to terminate parental rights may also be initiated when it is found that the parent has failed to plan adequately for the child's physical needs or mental and emotional health and development, and one or more of the following conditions are met:

  • In the case of a child in the care of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF), the following apply:
    • The child has been in the care of the department for 1 year, or for 6 months in the case of a child who comes into care as an infant, or there is a history of previous placement or placements of the child.
    • There is a history of neglect, abuse, or lack of care of the child.
    • The parent is incapable of discharging parental responsibilities due to extended or repeated incarceration.
    • The parent is not able or willing to assume prompt legal and physical custody of the child, and to pay for the child's support in accordance with the parent's financial means.
    • Failure to terminate the relationship of parent and child will result in continued emotional instability or physical risk to the child.
  • In the case of a child in the home of a stepparent, guardian, permanent guardian, or blood relative, the following is true:
    • The child has resided in the home of the stepparent, guardian, permanent guardian, or blood relative for a period of at least 1 year or for a period of 6 months in the case of an infant.
    • The court finds the parent is incapable of discharging parental responsibilities, and there appears to be little likelihood that the parent will be able to discharge such parental responsibilities in the near future.

Circumstances That Are Exceptions to Termination of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 13, § 1103

The court shall not terminate a parent's rights solely because the parent, in good faith, provides for his or her child, in lieu of medical treatment, treatment by spiritual means alone through prayer.

Circumstances Allowing Reinstatement of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 13, § 1116

A petition for reinstatement of parental rights may be filed in family court on behalf of any child when all the following are true:

  • The child is at least age 14 at the time of the petition is filed.
  • Parental rights in the child are currently vested in DSCYF regardless of the date parental rights were terminated.
  • The child is currently in DSCYF custody.
  • Adoption of the child is not possible or appropriate.
  • The child consents to the reinstatement.
  • The parent or parents who are subject to reinstatement consent.
  • At least 2 years have elapsed since the final termination order or the child is age 17.

The family court shall retain jurisdiction to reinstate parental rights in any case where the family court previously terminated parental rights. A petition for reinstatement of parental rights may be filed by the child, the child's attorney, the child's guardian ad litem, or DSCYF against one or both parents. The court, in its discretion, may also appoint an attorney to represent the child.

Should the elements of this section be met, the court shall hold a hearing on the petition for reinstatement of parental rights. The court may grant the petition if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that reinstatement is in the best interests of the child. Upon issuance of a final order reinstating parental rights, the effect of such order shall be that all the rights, duties, privileges, and obligations recognized by law between parent and child shall be reinstated, including, but not limited to, rights of inheritance.