Termination of Parental Rights in Colorado: Grounds and Process

Termination of Parental Rights in ColoradoTerminating parental rights is a legal process that severs the relationship between a parent and child, permanently ending all parenting rights, privileges, and obligations. In Colorado, this decision is not taken lightly as it has profound consequences for both the parent and the child. The grounds for termination must be established, and the process is governed by strict legal procedures.

What are Parental Rights?

Parental rights refer to the legal rights and responsibilities that parents have over their children. These rights are fundamental and protected by the US Constitution as well as state laws. Some of the key parental rights are:

  • The right to make decisions (legal custody): Parents have the right to make important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing, including decisions about education, healthcare, religion, and general welfare.
  • The right to physical custody: Parents have the right to have their child live with them and to make decisions about their child’s daily life and activities.
  • The right to visitation: If parents are separated or divorced, they generally have the right to visit and spend time with their child, unless the court deems it harmful to the child’s well-being.
  • The right to financial support: Parents have the obligation to provide financial support for their child, and they also have the right to receive child support from the other parent when applicable.
  • The right to provide inheritance: Children have the right to inherit from their parents, and parents have the right to leave an inheritance to their children.

Parental rights are not absolute and can be terminated or limited in certain circumstances, such as cases of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The termination of parental rights is a serious legal matter that permanently severs the parent-child relationship and all associated rights and responsibilities.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Colorado

Family Law courts aim to protect the best interests of a child, and this is the main objective in determining whether or not to terminate a parent’s rights. Specifically, in Colorado, the court may terminate parental rights if one or more of the following grounds are proven by clear and convincing evidence:

  • Abandonment: The parent has abandoned the child for a period of six months or more, without showing intention of resuming care for the child. Likewise, if a child’s parents are unknown for three months or more, those parents may be seen by law as abandoning their child.
  • Emotional illness or mental deficiency: The parent suffers from a mental illness or deficiency that renders them unable to care for the child, and there is no reasonable prospect for treatment or improvement.
  • Child injury: A parent may lose their rights if they are involved in a single incident of serious injury or disfigurement to the child.
  • Abuse of sibling: If any of the child’s siblings is seriously injured or killed due to parental abuse or neglect, that could end the parent’s rights.
  • Pattern of abuse: The parent has subjected the child or another child to habitual physical or sexual abuse.
  • Cruelty or torture: A parent may lose their rights if they subject their child or another child to extreme cruelty.
  • Failure to comply with treatment plan: If the court has decided on a treatment plan or visitation for a parent, the parent must comply with it or risk their parental rights.
  • Unfit parent. The court may deem a parent “unfit” due to various reasons such as the parent’s long-term imprisonment, history of violent behavior, neglect of the child, substance abuse, and more.

The Involuntary Parental Rights Termination Process in Colorado

Ending parental rights can be voluntary (requested by the parent) or involuntary (ordered  by the court). The involuntary termination of parental rights in Colorado follows a strict legal process, designed to protect the rights of both the parent and the child. Under Colorado Children’s Code Article 3, a dependency and neglect proceeding begins when a local county department of human services or a local law enforcement agency learns of suspected abuse or neglect. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-501(1) (2017). After taking immediate steps to protect the child, the department must notify a juvenile court of competent jurisdiction with respect to the child. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-312(1) (2017). The court then undertakes an investigation and thereafter may authorize the filing of a dependency and neglect petition. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-501(1)(b). If the court authorizes such a filing, then the local county department of social services files a petition alleging that the child is dependent or neglected and setting forth the facts supporting that allegation. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-502 (2017).

Notably, only the State may file a dependent or neglected petition. The matter then proceeds, and the parents either admit to all or some of the allegations in the petition or hold the State to its burden of proving the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence at an adjudicatory hearing at which the parents may call and cross-examine witnesses. If the State satisfies its burden (or if the parent admits the allegations), then the court will sustain the petition and enter an order of adjudication indicating whether the child is dependent or neglected. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-505(7)(a). The adjudication represents the court’s determination that state intervention is necessary to protect the child and that the family requires rehabilitative services in order to safely parent the child.

If the court sustains dependent or neglected petition and adjudicates the child dependent or neglected, then the court convenes a dispositional hearing at which the court considers the disposition best serving the interests of the child and the public and enters a decree of disposition. Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 19-3-505(7)(b), 19-3-507(1)(a). When the decree does not terminate the parent-child legal relationship, the court must approve an appropriate treatment plan. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-508(1)(e). The purpose of this plan is to provide services to the family, to prevent unnecessary out-of-home placement of the child, and to facilitate reunification of the child and family. In approving such a plan, the court strives to preserve the parent-child relationship, whenever possible, by assisting the parent in overcoming those problems which led to the dependency adjudication. An appropriate treatment plan is thus defined as a a treatment plan approved by the court that is reasonably calculated to render the particular respondent fit to provide adequate parenting to the child within a reasonable time and that relates to the child’s needs. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-103(10) (2017).

The termination of parental rights process generally begins with the filing of a petition for termination, detailing the factual grounds for termination. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-602(1) (2017). After such a petition is filed, the court must advise the parents that they have a right to counsel, if they are not already represented. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-602(2). If they are not represented, then the court will appoint counsel for them. In addition, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests. The matter then proceeds to a hearing, which must occur within strict time frames. After such a hearing, a court may order a termination of the parent-child legal relationship only if it finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child has been adjudicated dependent or neglected and (1) the parent has not reasonably complied with an appropriate treatment plan, the plan has been unsuccessful, or the court had previously found that an appropriate plan could not be devised; (2) the parent is unfit; and (3) the parent’s conduct or condition is unlikely to change within a reasonable time. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-604(1)(c) (2017).

At the conclusion of the relinquishment hearing, the court shall enter an order of relinquishment if it finds that (1) the relinquishing parent and any child that the court directed into counseling have received the prescribed counseling; (2) the parent’s decision to relinquish is knowing and voluntary and not the result of any threats, coercion, or undue influence or inducements; and (3) the relinquishment would best serve the interests of the child to be relinquished. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-5-103(7)(a). Article 5 further directs that if one parent relinquishes or proposes to relinquish a child, the agency or person having custody of the child “shall file a petition in the juvenile court to terminate the parent-child legal relationship of the other parent, unless the other parent’s relationship to the child has previously been terminated or determined by a court not to exist. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-5-105(1).

Throughout the process, the court’s primary consideration is the best interests of the child.

What Do Colorado Courts Consider the “Best Interests of the Child”?

According to Colorado law, when determining the best interests of the child in cases involving the termination of parental rights, courts consider several key factors:

  • The child’s emotional ties: The court evaluates the strength of the emotional bonds between the child and the parent, as well as the child’s ties to their current placement or prospective adoptive home.
  • The parent’s circumstances: The court considers the parent’s ability to care for the child, including their physical and mental health, financial stability, and living situation.
  • The child’s adjustment: The court assesses how the child has adjusted to their current living situation, school, and community, and the potential impact of disrupting those relationships.
  • The child’s wishes: If the child is of sufficient age and maturity, the court may consider their preference regarding the termination of parental rights and potential adoption.
  • The child’s needs: The court evaluates the child’s specific physical, emotional, and educational needs, and the ability of the parent or prospective adoptive family to meet those needs.
  • The availability of alternative placements: The court considers the availability of suitable alternative placements for the child, such as adoption by a relative or foster family.
  • The risk of harm: The court assesses the potential risk of harm to the child if parental rights are not terminated, including the risk of abuse, neglect, or exposure to domestic violence.

The court’s primary objective is to ensure the child’s safety, well-being, and opportunity for a stable and nurturing environment. Ending one’s parental rights can permanently alter the parent-child relationship, hence the court must carefully weigh all relevant factors to determine if it is truly in the child’s best interests.

Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

In some cases, a parent may choose to voluntarily terminate their parental rights. In Colorado, this is called relinquishment, and it is another significant decision that the court will not take lightly. A parent may decide to give up their parental rights in situations such as:

  • Adoption: A parent may voluntarily terminate their rights to allow another party, such as a stepparent or relative, to adopt the child.
  • Inability to parent: A parent may recognize their inability to provide adequate care for the child due to circumstances such as substance abuse, mental health issues, or financial instability.
  • Personal choice: In rare cases, a parent may voluntarily terminate their rights due to a personal decision or belief that it is in the child’s best interest.

The process for voluntary termination typically involves the following steps:

  1. Determining custody: The relinquishing parent will need proof that another party is ready and willing to be the legal guardian or parent of the child.
  2. Counseling: The parent must undergo counseling to ensure they fully understand the consequences of terminating their parental rights.
  3. Petition: The parent must file a petition with the court, stating their desire to terminate their parental rights and the reasons for doing so. Note that in Colorado, if both parents of the child are alive and well, they must both consent to the relinquishment. Though one parent may file the petition on their own, this petition must contain both parents’ consent in the filing forms.
  4. Hearing: The court will hold a hearing to ensure the parent’s decision is voluntary and made with full understanding of the implications.
  5. Termination order: If the court is satisfied that the termination is in the child’s best interest and the parent’s decision is voluntary, it will issue an order terminating the parent’s rights.

It is important to note that voluntary termination is a permanent decision, and the parent will no longer have any legal rights or responsibilities toward the child. The child may also be eligible for adoption by another party, such as a stepparent or relative.

Get Reliable Legal Help from the Parental Rights Attorneys at Goldman Law

If you have concerns regarding involuntary or voluntary termination of your parental rights in Colorado, it is crucial to seek legal counsel from an experienced Family Law attorney. At Goldman Law, LLC, our Denver family law attorneys can guide you through the process and ensure your rights and interests are protected. Contact us today at (303) 656-9529 to schedule a consultation.