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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tenn. Eases Process for Parental Rights Removal

(CN) - The Department of Children's Services doesn't have to prove it tried to reunite children with their parents before it terminates parental rights, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled.

The case at issue involves the termination of a father's parental rights. A juvenile court ruled that, because DCS proved the father showed disregard for the child's welfare, it didn't need to prove that it made reasonable efforts to help the father regain custody.

In a split opinion, a state appeals court reversed the termination of the father's parental rights because DCS didn't make a reasonable effort to reunite the child with a parent. But last Thursday, the Tennessee's high court reversed the appeals court decision and reinstated the juvenile court's decision.

The state supreme court noted that state law governing the termination of parental rights does not require proof of DCS's reasonable efforts to reunify the family. Rather, it is just one factor in deciding whether termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest.

"In cases in which DCS removes a child from the home, section 37-1-166 generally directs DCS to make reasonable efforts to reunify the parent with the child unless DCS can show that it is not required to do so," the ruling states. "Nothing in section 37-1-166, however, addresses proof on reasonable efforts in a termination proceeding."

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the child's overall best interest is paramount to proof of an effort to reunite the family as it relates to termination of parental rights.

"For these reasons, we hold that, in a termination proceeding, the extent of DCS's efforts to reunify the family is weighed in the court's best-interest analysis, but proof of reasonable efforts is not a precondition to termination of the parental rights of the respondent parent," the court held. "As with other factual findings made in connection with the best-interest analysis, reasonable efforts must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, not by clear and convincing evidence."

Justice Holly Kirby, who authored the opinion, said the court doesn't take its decision lightly.

"We arrive at this conclusion with great care, recognizing the impact of a judicial decree to terminate the parental rights of a biological parent," she wrote. "No civil action carries with it graver consequences than a petition to sever family ties irretrievably and forever."

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