Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights - Utah

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Circumstances That Are Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 80-4-301; 80-4-302

Effective September 1, 2021: Subject to the protections and requirements of § 80-4-104, and if the court finds it strictly necessary, the court may terminate parental rights if it finds any one of the following:

  • The parent has abandoned the child.
  • The parent has neglected or abused the child.
  • The parent is unfit or incompetent.
  • The child is being cared for in an out-of-home placement, the parent has substantially neglected or has been unable or unwilling to remedy the circumstances that caused the child to be in an out-of-home placement, and there is a substantial likelihood that the parent will not be capable of exercising proper and effective parental care in the near future.
  • The parent has made only token efforts to support or communicate with the child, prevent neglect of the child, eliminate the risk of serious harm to the child, or avoid being an unfit parent.
  • The parent has voluntarily relinquished the parent's parental rights to the child, and termination is in the child's best interests.
  • After a trial period during which the child was returned home, the parent substantially and continuously refused or failed to give the child proper parental care and protection.
  • The parent has complied with the terms and conditions of a safe relinquishment of a newborn child.

In determining whether a parent has abandoned a child, it is prima facie evidence of abandonment when the parent has done any of the following:

  • Surrendered physical custody of the child, and for 6 months following the surrender has not manifested a firm intention to resume physical custody or to make arrangements for the care of the child
  • Failed to communicate with the child for 6 months
  • Failed to show the normal interest of a natural parent, without just cause
  • Abandoned an infant

In determining whether a parent is unfit or has neglected a child, the court shall consider the following:

  • Emotional illness, mental illness, or mental deficiency of the parent that renders the parent unable to care for the immediate and continuing physical or emotional needs of the child for extended periods of time
  • Conduct toward a child of a physically, emotionally, or sexually cruel or abusive nature
  • Habitual or excessive use of intoxicating liquors, controlled substances, or dangerous drugs that render the parent unable to care for the child
  • Repeated or continuous failure to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, or other necessary care
  • Incarceration of the parent as a result of conviction of a felony for such a time that the child will be deprived of a normal home for more than 1 year
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to a minor

The following circumstances constitute prima facie evidence of unfitness:

  • Sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, injury, or death of any child, due to known or substantiated abuse or neglect by the parent
  • Conviction of a crime of such a nature as to indicate the unfitness of the parent to provide adequate care for the child
  • A single incident of life-threatening or gravely disabling injury to or disfigurement of the child
  • Conviction of the parent of committing, aiding, abetting, attempting, conspiring, or soliciting to commit murder or manslaughter of a child or child abuse homicide
  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing the death of another parent of the child, without legal justification

Circumstances That Are Exceptions to Termination of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 80-4-301; 80-4-302

Effective September 1, 2021: The court may not terminate the parental rights of a parent because the parent has failed to complete a treatment required by a child and family plan. If the court has directed the Division of Child and Family Services to provide reunification services to a parent, the court must find that the division made reasonable efforts to provide those services before the court may terminate the parent's rights.

The court may not discriminate against a parent because of or otherwise consider the parent's lawful possession or consumption of cannabis in a medicinal dosage form, a cannabis product, or a medical cannabis device, in accordance with title 26, chapter 61a, Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

A parent who, legitimately practicing the parent's religious beliefs, does not provide specified medical treatment for a child is not, for that reason alone, a negligent or unfit parent.

A parent may not be considered neglectful or unfit because of a health-care decision made for a child by the child's parent unless the State or other party to the proceeding shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the health-care decision is not reasonable and informed. Nothing in this section may prohibit a parent from exercising the right to obtain a second health-care opinion.

Circumstances Allowing Reinstatement of Parental Rights

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 80-4-401; 8-4-402

Effective September 1, 2021: A child who is age 12 or older, or the child's representative acting, may file a petition to restore parental rights if the following apply:

  • Twenty-four months have passed since the former parent's parental rights were terminated.
  • Either of the following applies to the child:
    • The child has not been adopted and is not in an adoptive placement or is unlikely to be adopted before the child is age 18.
    • The child was previously adopted following a termination of parental rights, but the adoption failed and the child was returned to the custody of the division.

Before the hearing on the petition, the division may submit a confidential report to the court that includes the following information:

  • Material changes in circumstances since the termination of parental rights
  • The reasons why parental rights were terminated
  • The date on which parental rights were terminated
  • The willingness of the former parent to resume contact with the child and have parental rights restored
  • The ability of the former parent to be involved in the life of the child and accept physical custody of and responsibility for the child
  • Any other information the division reasonably considers appropriate and determinative

A former parent who remedies the circumstances that resulted in the termination of the former parent's parental rights, and who can exercise proper and effective parental care, shall notify the division that the former parent desires and requests to have the former parent's parental rights restored. The former parent's request to the division shall be fully and fairly considered by the division for appropriate submittal to the court.

The court may restore a parent's parental rights if the following conditions are met:

  • The child meets the requirements listed above.
  • Considering the age and maturity of the child, the child consents to the restoration.
  • The former parent consents to the restoration.
  • The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that restoration is in the best interests of the child.

In determining whether reunification is appropriate and in the best interests of the child, the court shall consider the following:

  • Whether the former parent has been sufficiently rehabilitated from the behavior that resulted in the termination of parental rights
  • The extended family support for the former parent
  • Other material changes of circumstances, if any, that may have occurred that warrant the granting of the motion

At the hearing on a petition to restore parental rights, if the former parent consents and if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interests of the child, the court may do any of the following:

  • Allow contact between the former parent and the child and describe the conditions under which contact may take place
  • Order that the child be placed with the former parent in a temporary custody and guardianship relationship, to be reevaluated after the child has been placed with the former parent for 6 months
  • Restore the parental rights of the parent

If the court orders the child to be placed in the physical custody of the former parent, the court shall specify in the order whether that custody is subject to continued evaluation by the court or the supervision of the division and the terms and conditions of reunification.