Tennessee Code Annotated

Title 36: Domestic Relations

Chapter 1: Adoption

Part 1: General Provisions

TCA 36-1-113: Termination of parental rights.

(a) The chancery and circuit courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the juvenile court to terminate parental or guardianship rights to a child in a separate proceeding, or as a part of the adoption proceeding by utilizing any grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights permitted in this part or in title 37, chapter 1, part 1 and title 37, chapter 2, part 4.

(b) (1) The prospective adoptive parent or parents, including extended family members caring for a related child, any licensed child-placing agency having custody of the child, the child's guardian ad litem, or the department shall have standing to file a petition pursuant to this part or title 37 to terminate parental or guardianship rights of a person alleged to be a parent or guardian of the child. The child's parent, pursuant to subdivision (g)(11), shall also have standing to file a petition pursuant to this part or title 37 to terminate parental or guardianship rights of a person alleged to be a parent or guardian of the child. The prospective adoptive parents, including extended family members caring for a related child, shall have standing to request termination of parental or guardianship rights in the adoption petition filed by them pursuant to this part.

(2) The court shall notify the petitioning parent that the duty of future child support by the parent who is the subject of the termination petition will be forever terminated by entry of an order terminating parental rights.

(c) Termination of parental or guardianship rights must be based upon:

(1) A finding by the court by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights have been established; and

(2) That termination of the parent's or guardian's rights is in the best interests of the child.

(d) (1) The petition, or allegations in the adoption petition, to terminate parental rights may be made upon information and belief and shall be verified. If a parent whose parental rights are proposed for termination is the legal parent of the child, as defined in SC 36-1-102, and if such parent is alleged to be deceased, then diligent efforts must be made by the petitioner to verify the death of such parent.

(2) The petition, or allegations in the adoption petition, shall state:

(A) The child's birth name;

(B) The child's age or date of birth;

(C) The child's current residence address or county of residence or that the child is in the custody of the department or a licensed child-placing agency; and

(D) Any other facts that allege the basis for termination of parental rights and that bring the child and parties within the jurisdiction of the court.

(3) (A) The petition, or allegations in the adoption petition, shall contain a verified statement that:

(i) The putative father registry maintained by the department has been consulted within ten (10) working days of the filing of the petition and shall state whether there exists any claim on the registry to the paternity of the child who is the subject of the termination or adoption petition;

(ii) Indicates if there exists any other claim or potential claim to the paternity of the child;

(iii) Describes whether any other parental or guardianship rights have been terminated by surrender, parental consent, or otherwise, and whether any other such rights must be terminated before the child can be made available for adoption;

(iv) Any notice required pursuant to subdivision (d)(4) has been given; and

(v) The medical and social history of the child and the child's biological family has been completed to the extent possible on the form promulgated by the department pursuant to SC 36-1-111(k); provided, however, the absence of such completed information shall not be a barrier to termination of parental rights.

(B) Any person or persons entitled to notice pursuant to the provisions of SC 36-1-117 shall be named as defendants in the petition to terminate parental rights or in the adoption petition and shall be served with a copy of the petition as provided by law.

(C) The petition to terminate, or the adoption petition that seeks to terminate parental rights, shall state that:

(i) The petition or request for termination in the adoption petition shall have the effect of forever severing all of the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of the parent(s) or guardian(s) to the child who is the subject of the order, and of the child to those parent(s) or guardian(s);

(ii) The child will be placed in the guardianship of other person, persons or public or private agencies who, or that, as the case may be, shall have the right to adopt the child, or to place the child for adoption and to consent to the child's adoption; and

(iii) The parent or guardian shall have no further right to notice of proceedings for the adoption of the child by other persons and that the parent or guardian shall have no right to object to the child's adoption or thereafter, at any time, to have any relationship, legal or otherwise, with the child.

(4) The petition, if filed separately from the adoption petition, may be filed as provided in SC 36-1-114. If the petition is filed in a court different from the court where there is a pending custody, dependency, neglect or abuse proceeding concerning a person whose parental rights are sought to be terminated in the petition, a notice of the filing of the petition, together with a copy of the petition, shall be sent by the petitioner to the court where the prior proceeding is pending. In addition, the petitioner filing a petition under this section shall comply with the requirements of SC 36-1-117(e).

(e) Service of process of the petition shall be made as provided in SC 36-1-117.

(f) Before terminating the rights of any parent or guardian who is incarcerated or who was incarcerated at the time of an action or proceeding is initiated, it must be affirmatively shown to the court that such incarcerated parent or guardian received actual notice of the following:

(1) The time and place of the hearing to terminate parental rights;

(2) That the hearing will determine whether the rights of the incarcerated parent or guardian should be terminated;

(3) That the incarcerated parent or guardian has the right to participate in the hearing and contest the allegation that the rights of the incarcerated parent or guardian should be terminated, and, at the discretion of the court, such participation may be achieved through personal appearance, teleconference, telecommunication or other means deemed by the court to be appropriate under the circumstances;

(4) That if the incarcerated parent or guardian wishes to participate in the hearing and contest the allegation, such parent or guardian:

(A) If indigent, will be provided with a court-appointed attorney to assist the parent or guardian in contesting the allegation; and

(B) Shall have the right to perpetuate such person's testimony or that of any witness by means of depositions or interrogatories as provided by the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure; and

(5) If, by means of a signed waiver, the court determines that the incarcerated parent or guardian has voluntarily waived the right to participate in the hearing and contest the allegation, or if such parent or guardian takes no action after receiving notice of such rights, the court may proceed with such action without the parent's or guardian's participation.

(g) Initiation of termination of parental or guardianship rights may be based upon any of the grounds listed in this subsection (g). The following grounds are cumulative and non-exclusive, so that listing conditions, acts or omissions in one ground does not prevent them from coming within another ground:

(1) Abandonment by the parent or guardian, as defined in SC 36-1-102, has occurred;

(2) There has been substantial noncompliance by the parent or guardian with the statement of responsibilities in a permanency plan pursuant to the provisions of title 37, chapter 2, part 4;

(3)

The child has been removed from the home of the parent or guardian by order of a court for a period of six (6) months and:

(A) The conditions that led to the child's removal or other conditions that in all reasonable probability would cause the child to be subjected to further abuse or neglect and that, therefore, prevent the child's safe return to the care of the parent(s) or guardian(s), still persist;

(B) There is little likelihood that these conditions will be remedied at an early date so that the child can be safely returned to the parent(s) or guardian(s) in the near future; and

(C) The continuation of the parent or guardian and child relationship greatly diminishes the child's chances of early integration into a safe, stable and permanent home;

(4) The parent or guardian has been found to have committed severe child abuse as defined in SC 37-1-102, under any prior order of a court or is found by the court hearing the petition to terminate parental rights or the petition for adoption to have committed severe child abuse against the child who is the subject of the petition or against any sibling or half-sibling of such child, or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home of such parent or guardian;

(5) The parent or guardian has been sentenced to more than two (2) years' imprisonment for conduct against the child who is the subject of the petition, or for conduct against any sibling or half-sibling of the child or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home of such parent or guardian, that has been found under any prior order of a court or that is found by the court hearing the petition to be severe child abuse, as defined in SC 37-1-102. Unless otherwise stated, for purposes of this subdivision (g)(5), "sentenced" shall not be construed to mean that the parent or guardian must have actually served more than two (2) years in confinement, but shall only be construed to mean that the court had imposed a sentence of two (2) or more years upon the parent or guardian;

(6) The parent has been confined in a correctional or detention facility of any type, by order of the court as a result of a criminal act, under a sentence of ten (10) or more years, and the child is under eight (8) years of age at the time the sentence is entered by the court;

(7) The parent has been convicted of or found civilly liable for the intentional and wrongful death of the child's other parent or legal guardian;

(8) (A) The chancery and circuit courts shall have jurisdiction in an adoption proceeding, and the chancery, circuit, and juvenile courts shall have jurisdiction in a separate, independent proceeding conducted prior to an adoption proceeding to determine if the parent or guardian is mentally incompetent to provide for the further care and supervision of the child, and to terminate that parent's or guardian's rights to the child;

(B) The court may terminate the parental or guardianship rights of that person if it determines on the basis of clear and convincing evidence that:

(i) The parent or guardian of the child is incompetent to adequately provide for the further care and supervision of the child because the parent's or guardian's mental condition is presently so impaired and is so likely to remain so that it is unlikely that the parent or guardian will be able to assume or resume the care of and responsibility for the child in the near future; and

(ii) That termination of parental or guardian rights is in the best interest of the child;

(C) In the circumstances described under subdivisions (8)(A) and (B), no willfulness in the failure of the parent or guardian to establish the parent's or guardian's ability to care for the child need be shown to establish that the parental or guardianship rights should be terminated;

(9) (A) The parental rights of any person who, at the time of the filing of a petition to terminate the parental rights of such person or, if no such petition is filed, at the time of the filing of a petition to adopt a child, is not the legal parent or guardian of such child or who is described in SC 36-1-117(b) or (c) may also be terminated based upon any one (1) or more of the following additional grounds:

(i) The person has failed, without good cause or excuse, to pay a reasonable share of prenatal, natal, and postnatal expenses involving the birth of the child in accordance with the person's financial means promptly upon the person's receipt of notice of the child's impending birth;

(ii) The person has failed, without good cause or excuse, to make reasonable and consistent payments for the support of the child in accordance with the child support guidelines promulgated by the department pursuant to SC 36-5-101;

(iii) The person has failed to seek reasonable visitation with the child, and if visitation has been granted, has failed to visit altogether, or has engaged in only token visitation, as defined in SC 36-1-102(1)(C);

(iv) The person has failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child;

(v) Placing custody of the child in the person's legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child; or

(vi) The person has failed to file a petition to establish paternity of the child within thirty (30) days after notice of alleged paternity by the child's mother, or as required in SC 36-2-318(j), or after making a claim of paternity pursuant to SC 36-1-117(c)(3);

(B) (i) For purposes of this subdivision (g)(9), "notice" means the mailing, postage pre-paid, or the sending by, express mail, courier, or other conveyance, to the person charged with notice at such person's address a statement that such person is believed to be the biological parent of a child. Notice shall be deemed received if the statement sent is not returned undelivered or evidence is not otherwise received by the sender that the statement was not delivered; and

(ii) "Notice" also means the oral statement to an alleged biological father from a biological mother that the alleged biological father is believed to be the biological father of the biological mother's child;

(10) (A) The parent has been convicted of aggravated rape pursuant to SC 39-13-502, rape pursuant to SC 39-13-503, or rape of a child pursuant to SC 39-13-522, from which crime the child was conceived. A certified copy of the conviction suffices to prove this ground;

(B) When one (1) of the child's parents has been convicted of one (1) of the offenses specified in subdivision (g)(10)(A), the child's other parent shall have standing to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the convicted parent. Nothing in this section shall give a parent standing to file a petition to terminate parental rights based on grounds other than those listed in this subdivision (g)(10);

(11) (A) (i) The parent has been found to have committed severe child sexual abuse under any prior order of a criminal court;

(ii) For the purposes of this section, "severe child sexual abuse" means the parent is convicted of any of the following offenses towards a child:

(a) Aggravated rape, pursuant to SC 39-13-502;

(b) Aggravated sexual battery, pursuant to SC 39-13-504;

(c) Aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, pursuant to SC 39-17-1004;

(d) Especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, pursuant to SC 39-17-1005;

(e) Incest, pursuant to SC 39-15-302;

(f) Rape, pursuant to SC 39-13-503; or

(g) Rape of a child, pursuant to SC 39-13-522;

(B) When one (1) of the child's parents has been convicted of one (1) of the offenses specified in subdivision (g)(11)(A)(ii), the child's other parent shall have standing to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the abusive parent. Nothing in this section shall give a parent standing to file a petition to terminate parental rights based on grounds other than those listed in this subdivision (g)(11); and

(12) The parent or guardian has been convicted of trafficking for commercial sex act under SC 39-13-309.

(h) (1) The department shall file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the child's parents (or, if such a petition has been filed by another party, seek to be joined as a party to the petition), and, concurrently, to identify, recruit, process, and approve a qualified family for an adoption, under the following circumstances:

(A) In the case of a child who has been in foster care under the responsibility of the department for fifteen (15) of the most recent twenty-two (22) months; or

(B) If a court of competent jurisdiction has determined a child to be an abandoned infant as defined at SC 36-1-102; or

(C) If a court of competent jurisdiction has made a determination in a criminal or civil proceeding that the parent has committed murder of any sibling or half-sibling of the child who is the subject of the petition or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home, committed voluntary manslaughter of another such child, aided or abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit such a murder or such a voluntary manslaughter of the child that is the subject of the petition or any sibling or half-sibling of the child who is the subject of the petition or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home, or committed a felony assault that has resulted in serious bodily injury or severe child abuse as defined at SC 37-1-102 to the child that is the subject of the petition or any sibling or half-sibling of the child who is the subject of the petition or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home. For the purposes of this subsection (h), such a determination shall be made by a jury or trial court judge designated by SC 16-2-502 through an explicit finding, or by such equivalent courts of other states or of the United States; or

(D) If a juvenile court has made a finding of severe child abuse as defined at SC 37-1-102.

(2) At the option of the department, the department may determine that a petition to terminate the parental rights of the child's parents shall not be filed (or, if such a petition has been filed by another party, shall not be required to seek to be joined as a party to the petition), if one of the following exists:

(A) The child is being cared for by a relative;

(B) The department has documented in the permanency plan, which shall be available for court review, a compelling reason for determining that filing such a petition would not be in the best interests of the child; or

(C) The department has not made reasonable efforts under SC 37-1-166 to provide to the family of the child, consistent with the time period in the department permanency plan, such services as the department deems necessary for the safe return of the child to the child's home.

(i) In determining whether termination of parental or guardianship rights is in the best interest of the child pursuant to this part, the court shall consider, but is not limited to, the following:

(1) Whether the parent or guardian has made such an adjustment of circumstance, conduct, or conditions as to make it safe and in the child's best interest to be in the home of the parent or guardian;

(2) Whether the parent or guardian has failed to effect a lasting adjustment after reasonable efforts by available social services agencies for such duration of time that lasting adjustment does not reasonably appear possible;

(3) Whether the parent or guardian has maintained regular visitation or other contact with the child;

(4) Whether a meaningful relationship has otherwise been established between the parent or guardian and the child;

(5) The effect a change of caretakers and physical environment is likely to have on the child's emotional, psychological and medical condition;

(6) Whether the parent or guardian, or other person residing with the parent or guardian, has shown brutality, physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse, or neglect toward the child, or another child or adult in the family or household;

(7) Whether the physical environment of the parent's or guardian's home is healthy and safe, whether there is criminal activity in the home, or whether there is such use of alcohol, controlled substances or controlled substance analogues as may render the parent or guardian consistently unable to care for the child in a safe and stable manner;

(8) Whether the parent's or guardian's mental and/or emotional status would be detrimental to the child or prevent the parent or guardian from effectively providing safe and stable care and supervision for the child; or

(9) Whether the parent or guardian has paid child support consistent with the child support guidelines promulgated by the department pursuant to SC 36-5-101.

(j) In the hearing on the petition, the circuit, chancery, or juvenile court shall, in addition to the Tennessee Rules of Evidence, admit evidence as permitted under the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure, and shall recognize the exemptions to privileges as provided pursuant to SCSC 37-1-411 and 37-1-614.

(k) The court shall ensure that the hearing on the petition takes place within six (6) months of the date that the petition is filed, unless the court determines an extension is in the best interests of the child. The court shall enter an order that makes specific findings of fact and conclusions of law within thirty (30) days of the conclusion of the hearing. If such a case has not been completed within six (6) months from the date the petition was served, the petitioner or respondent shall have grounds to request that the court of appeals grant an order expediting the case at the trial level.

(l) (1) An order terminating parental rights shall have the effect of severing forever all legal rights and obligations of the parent or guardian of the child against whom the order of termination is entered and of the child who is the subject of the petition to that parent or guardian. The parent or guardian shall have no further right to notice of proceedings for the adoption of that child by other persons and shall have no right to object to the child's adoption or thereafter to have any relationship, legal or otherwise, with the child. It shall terminate the responsibilities of that parent or guardian under this section for future child support or other future financial responsibilities even if the child is not ultimately adopted; provided, that the entry of an order terminating the parental rights shall not eliminate the responsibility of such parent or guardian for past child support arrearages or other financial obligations incurred for the care of such child prior to the entry of the order terminating parental rights.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (l)(1), a child who is the subject of the order for termination shall be entitled to inherit from a parent whose rights are terminated until the final order of adoption is entered.

(m) Upon termination of parental or guardian rights, the court may award guardianship or partial guardianship of the child to a licensed child-placing agency or the department. Such guardianship shall include the right to place the child for adoption and the right to consent to the child's adoption. Upon termination of parental or guardian rights, the court may award guardianship or partial guardianship to any prospective adoptive parent or parents with the right to adopt the child, or to any permanent guardian who has been appointed pursuant to title 37, chapter 1, part 8. In any of these cases, such guardianship is subject to the remaining rights, if any, of any other parent or guardian of the child. Before guardianship or partial guardianship can be awarded to a permanent guardian, the court shall find that the department or licensed child-placing agency currently having custody of the child has made reasonable efforts to place the child for adoption and that permanent guardianship is in the best interest of the child.

(n) An order of guardianship or partial guardianship entered by the court pursuant to this section shall supersede prior orders of custody or guardianship of that court and of other courts, except those prior orders of guardianship or partial guardianship of other courts entered as the result of validly executed surrenders or revocations pursuant to SC 36-1-111 or SC 36-1-112, or except as provided pursuant to SC 36-1-111(r)(4)(D) and (E), or except an order of guardianship or partial guardianship of a court entered pursuant to SC 36-1-116; provided, that orders terminating parental rights entered by a court under this section prior to the filing of an adoption petition shall be effective to terminate parental rights for all purposes.

(o) If the court terminates parental or guardianship rights, under the provisions of this part or title 37 or a consent is given pursuant to SC 36-1-117(f) or (g), or if there have been surrenders of parental or guardianship rights of all other necessary parties, then no further surrender or consent of that parent or guardian shall be necessary to authorize an adoption; provided, that the adoption court may review and confirm the validity of any denials of parentage made by persons under any statutory provisions from outside the state of Tennessee.

(p) A copy of the order or orders obtained by the prospective adoptive parents terminating parental or guardianship rights under this section shall be filed with the petition for adoption.

(q) After the entry of the order terminating parental rights, no party to the proceeding, nor anyone claiming under such party, may later question the validity of the termination proceeding by reason of any defect or irregularity therein, jurisdictional or otherwise, but shall be fully bound thereby, except based upon a timely appeal of the termination order as may be allowed by law; and in no event, for any reason, shall a termination of parental rights be overturned by any court or collaterally attacked by any person or entity after one (1) year from the date of the entry of the final order of termination. This provision is intended as a statute of repose.

History: Acts 1951, ch. 202, SC 5 (Williams, SC 9572.19); Acts 1955, ch. 320, SC 1; 1957, ch. 292, SC 1; 1959, ch. 111, SC 1; 1959, ch. 223, SC 4; impl. am. Acts 1975, ch. 219, SC 1; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), SC 36-110; SC 36-1-110; Acts 1995, ch. 532, SC 1; 1996, ch. 1054, SCSC 41-44; 1997, ch. 379, SC 1; 1997, ch. 551, SC 54; 1998, ch. 1097, SCSC 4-11; 1998, ch. 1098, SC 4; 1999, ch. 467, SC 1; 2000, ch. 683, SCSC 1, 3; 2003, ch. 84, SCSC 1, 2; 2003, ch. 231, SCSC 9, 10; 2006, ch. 890, SC 2; 2007, ch. 372, SCSC 1, 2; 2008, ch. 1059, SCSC 1-3; 2008, ch. 1162, SCSC 3, 4; 2010, ch. 821, SC 1; 2010, ch. 842, SC 1; 2010, ch. 881, SC 2; 2012, ch. 848, SC 8; 2012, ch. 1042, SCSC 1-3; 2013, ch. 298, SC 1; 2013, ch. 365, SC 1.