The Supreme Court and Parental Rights Termination

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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On May 9, 2018 the Supreme Court overturned the opinion of the Court of Appeals in a case regarding termination of a father’s parental rights. Initially the family court decided that rights of the father had never been established and if they had there was factual evidence for them to be terminated. The family court authorized the foster parents to proceed with adoption as both biology parents’ rights had been terminated. In response to the decision made through family court, the biology father appealed the decision landing the case before the Court of Appeals.

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Additionally, the court of appeals decided that the family court ruling was flawed in terminating the father’s parental rights. This was based on the finding that the foster parents failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that there was grounds for termination. The court of appeals viewed that there was no evidence to show that father abandoned child, failed to visit the child, or did not support the child. Thus reversing the decision of the family court. The court of appeals remanded the matter to the family court for a new permanency planning hearing.

This same court granted the foster parents the right to file a certiorari to review based on the following: (1) whether the court of appeals made a mistake in reversing the family court’s order terminating father’s parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment and willful failure to visit; (2) whether, the court of appeals did so err, the family court properly found termination of father’s parental rights was in child’s best interest; and (3) whether the court of appeals erred in holding the family court had no authority to determine any adoption issues because it found foster parents lacked standing to bring the private adoption action (FindLaw, par 22, 2019). On October 19, 2017 this matter was heard before the Supreme Court of South Carolina. For several reasons the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals decision and reinstated the family court’s grant for adoption by the foster parents.

Family Court Rulings- Termination of Rights

The United States Constitution requires reasonable measures when the State pursues to dissolve the relationship between a biological parent and their child. In this case the statutory grounds for termination were based on abandonment, failure to visit, and the best interest of the child. For the grounds of abandonment the foster parents argued that the mother had signed a consent voluntarily relinquishing her rights. In regards to the father, the courts found that he had abandoned the child “”by and through his omission to make any arrangement whatsoever for [Child]’s needs or the continuing care of [Child] prior to reporting to prison.”” (South Carolina DSS vs. Smith) The grounds for failure to visit was satisfied through arguments stating that the father willfully failed to visit the child for six months. Foster parents argued that has was not prohibited from visiting or having any interaction with the child by DSS and themselves. And lastly the grounds for best interest of the child was satisfied by arguing that due to father’s current incarceration, he was not a person that could provide the child with permanent care, custody, protection, or security.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina concluded that all statutory grounds had been met with clear and convincing evidence. After careful deliberation a the Supreme Court released their opinion stating “ We hold: (1) clear and convincing evidence establishes that Father abandoned and willfully failed to visit Child; (2) TPR is in Child’s best interest; and (3) based on the facts of this case, Foster Parents have standing to bring their private adoption action. We also hold the family court properly granted Child’s adoption to Foster Parents. Therefore, the court of appeals’ decision is REVERSED, and the family court’s order granting adoption to Foster Parents is reinstated” (FindLaw, par 22, 2019).


Disruption in family roles has been a long debated social matter, especially when considering the development of a child. The family structure is a key factor to successfully building a healthy and productive individual. This has been the base for family preservation as the primary goal in child welfare. Each state is required to offer services to assist families in crisis in attempts to maintain the family bond. This is done by improving parenting and family functioning while keeping children safe. Family preservation services were developed out of the acknowledgement that children require a safe and stable family and that separating them from their families can be traumatic and leave long lasting negative effects.

Many measures are put in place to help aid in family preservation. These measures range from basic parenting classes to foster care, which allows some of the more intensive family crisis to be worked out while the children are placed out of the home for a short period of time. In the event that the problems related to the removal of the children from the home cannot be rectified a request to the court can be made to terminate the rights of the parents. If the request is granted this will leave a child(ren) without a family or allow them to be placed permanently with a new one.

For a parent’s right to be terminated there must be specific conditions present such as the risk of harm by the parent or failure of the parent to provide the child with basic needs. Each state is required to establish their own statutory grounds for termination. The most common statutory grounds for determining parental unfitness across each state 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 If the state believes that any of these factors are present, it is their responsibility to provide the court with evidence as well as proof that reasonable efforts were made on their part to correct the conditions.

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The Supreme Court and Parental Rights Termination. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from