Biology connects children to their parents, but a home requires adults who provide a stable, nurturing and safe environment. The law provides a recourse so that a child whose best interests—emotional, psychological, physical and otherwise—rest with someone other their biological parents. These legal obstacles, however, demand a higher burden of proof to ensure the rights of biological parents remain protected. A recent court case in Mississippi emphasized this in its discussion of the criteria established under state law to terminate parental rights.
A man and a woman 30 years his junior had had sexual intercourse over the course of several years. On June 27, 2018, the woman bore a child. The father filed a motion for temporary custody as well as “paramount care, custody and control” of the child. The woman’s mother intervened, alleging the child would suffer “probable harm” in his custody.
A lower court awarded the mother physical and legal custody. A hearing appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the child. In a subsequent hearing, the woman sought termination of the father’s rights because of his “ongoing behavior of sexual and physical abuse of [herself] and other women.”
Clear and convincing evidence
On appeal, the father raised two issues: inadequate evidence and failure of the court to explain why it did not follow the GAL’s recommendation not to terminate the father’s rights. Citing state law, the court reviewed the evidence and testimony of the lower court. Namely, clear and convincing evidence of “present conduct…that demonstrates a substantial risk of compromising or endangering the child’s welfare or safety.”
The record of testimony showed the father was unemployed, drawing disability and had rented hotel rooms for sex with women. On one occasion, the child was found with a syringe in her mouth. The court also cited specific reasons in the decision that the court provided for not following the GAL’s recommendation.
Nature and nurture contribute a child’s emotional, physical and mental health. From birth, the law establishes factors that permit a court to evaluate based on circumstances of the situation and interests of all parties. An attorney with experience and knowledge about terminating parental rights can offer guidance.