GEORGIA STATUTE SUMMARY
Termination of Parental Rights
At the bottom of the following summary you will find a link that will take you to the Georgia state code website. The citations in the summary will aid in your search for the full text of the relevant provisions on the state code website.
A living parent or guardian may voluntarily, in writing, surrender his/her child to the department or any child-placing agency for adoption. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-4(a). Such voluntary surrender may also be made to facilitate an adoption by an identified third party. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-5(a).
The child’s biological father who is not the legal father may surrender all rights to his child for purpose of adoption. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-4(e)(2), Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-5(e)(2). Surrender may also be given by either an adult or minor; surrender given by a minor is binding as if the individual had the legal capacity to do so. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-4(i), Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-5(i).
The parent or guardian’s voluntary surrender must conform to Ga. Code §19-8-26(e) form. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-6(e)(1). The representative of each petitioner must execute an affidavit meeting requirements provided in Ga. Code Ann. 19-8-26(k). Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-6(h), 19-8-7(h).
An adoption petition filed based on the parent(s) voluntary surrender of the child must be filed within 60 days from date of that surrender. If the petition is not filed within that time, or if proceedings resulting from the petition do not result in an adoption, the surrender will operate as follows, as elected by the child’s legal parent or guardian:
• in favor of that legal parent or guardian, with an express stipulation that no provision of the surrender will impair its validity, absolute finality, or totality under any other circumstances, once the revocation period has expired;
• in favor of the agency designated in the surrender, if any; or
• in favor of the department for adoptive placement for adoption, if no legal parent, guardian, or agency is designated in the surrender, or if the designated agency does not accept the child for placement.
The court can waive the 60-day time period for filing the petition for excusable neglect. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-5(k).
A child whose legal father and legal mother are living but are not married to each other can be adopted by either parent’s spouse, if the other parent voluntarily and in writing surrenders all parental rights to the other spouse. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-6(a)(1).
If the child’s biological father is not his/her legal father and his identity is unknown to petitioner or petitioner’s attorney, the court can require the mother to execute an affidavit regarding such father or show cause before the court if she refuses. If the court finds from the evidence including, but not limited to the mother’s affidavit, that such biological father has not:
• lived with the child;
• contributed to the child’s support;
• made any attempt to legitimate the child; or
• provided support or medical care for mother either during pregnancy or during her hospitalization for the child’s birth,
and petitioner provides the required certificate from the putative father registry, there is a rebuttable presumption the biological father who is not the legal father is not entitled to notice of proceedings. No further inquiry or notice shall be required by the court without evidence to rebut the presumption, and the court shall enter an order terminating the biological father’s parental rights. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(g).
When a termination petition is filed, a summons shall be issued, at least 30 days before the hearing date, on the child’s parents, guardian, lawful custodian, and the person with present physical custody of the child. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(a)-(c).
If the paternity of a child born out of wedlock has been judicially established before the petition was filed, the father shall be served with summons. Such father has the right to be heard unless he has relinquished all paternal rights to the child. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(d). A biological father who is not the child’s legal father who has not executed a surrender pursuant to statute shall receive notice in the following circumstances:
• if his identity is known to the petitioner or the petitioner’s attorney;
• if he is a registrant on the putative father registry who has acknowledged paternity pursuant to statute;
• if he is a registrant on the putative father registry who has indicated possible paternity of a child of the child’s mother during a period beginning two years immediately prior to the child’s date of birth; or
• if the court finds from the evidence that such biological father has done any of the following:
o lived with the child;
o contributed to the child’s support;
o made any attempt to legitimate the child; or
o provided support or medical care for the mother during her pregnancy or her hospitalization for the child’s birth.
Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(e). The notice shall advise such father that he loses all rights to the child and will not be entitled to object to the termination of those rights unless, within 30 days of receiving the notice, he files:
• a legitimation action as required by statute; and
• a notice that he has filed such petition with the court hearing the termination petition.
Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(h).
Upon clear and convincing evidence of parental misconduct or inability, the court will consider whether termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest, after considering the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and moral condition and needs, as well as a need for a secure and stable home. Ga. Code Ann. §§15-11-94(a), 15-11-99.
A parent’s rights may be terminated if:
• the parent so written consents, in writing and with court acknowledgement if required; acknowledgement before the court is not necessary where parent(s) voluntarily surrender child for adoption as provided by statute;
• the parent has wantonly and willfully failed to comply with a lawful court support order for a period of 12 months or longer;
• the parent abandoned the child or left him/her under circumstances that the parent’s identity is unknown and cannot be ascertained despite diligent searching, and the parent has not come forward to claim child within three months after the child was found; or
• the court determines parental misconduct or inability by finding that the child is a deprived child, as defined by statute, and the lack of proper parental care or control caused the child’s deprived status such cause is likely to continue or will not likely be remedied and continued deprivation will, or is likely to, cause the child serious physical, mental, emotional, or moral harm to child.
o To determine whether the child is without proper parental care and control, the court shall consider, without limitation:
the medically verifiable deficiency of parent’s physical, mental, or emotional health, or
an excessive use of alcohol or drugs (or a history of chronic, unrehabilitated alcohol or drug abuse),
[any of which rendering the parent unable to provide adequately for the child’s physical, mental emotional, or moral condition and needs]
the parent’s conviction a felony and imprisonment that negatively effects the relationship with his/her child;
the parent’s egregious conduct (or evidence of past egregious conduct) toward any child of a physically, emotionally, or sexually cruel or abusive nature;
the parent’s present or past physical, mental, or emotional neglect of child; and
the injury or death of a sibling under circumstances constituting substantial evidence that such injury or death resulted from parental neglect or abuse.
Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-94(b)(1)-(4)(A)-(B).
Additionally, if the child is not in parent’s custody, the court will consider, without limitation, whether such parent, without justifiable cause, has significantly failed, for one year or longer before the termination petition was filed:
• to develop and maintain a parental bond with the child in a meaningful, supportive manner;
• to provide for the child’s care and support as required; and
• to comply with a court-ordered plan designed to reunite the child with his/her parent(s).
Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-94(b)(4)(C).
A copy of the petition must be attached to summons in all cases other than service by publication. When served by publication, notice shall indicate general nature of allegations and where a copy of petition may be obtained. All summons shall contain a statement to the effect that the hearing is to terminate parental rights. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-96(b).
When parental rights have been surrendered or terminated pursuant to statute, the department, child-placing agency or adoption petitioner may file a petition to terminate the biological father’s rights to the child. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-12(d)(1)-(2).
The termination petition, and all subsequent court documents in the proceeding, must be in writing and shall be entitled “In the matter of ______, a child.” Upon appeal, the child’s anonymity must be protected by the use of initials. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-95(a). The petition should clearly and concisely request an order for termination of parental rights is requested. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-95(c). A petition alleging deprivation has to be made, verified, and endorsed by the court. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-95(b).
If the petition seeks termination of the rights of a biological father who is not the legal father and has not surrendered his rights to child, the petition must include a certificate from the putative father registry as specified by statute. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-95(d).
The court can require a physical or mental evaluation of a parent, stepparent, guardian, or child involved in a termination proceeding. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-100.
The record of the testimony from the termination proceeding is admissible only in later deprivation or termination proceedings involving the same child or respondent. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-101.
Any named, properly served person who fails to appear or bring the child before the court may be required by the court to appear to show why he/she should not be held in contempt of court. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-97(a). If the summons cannot be served or the person to whom the summons is directed fails to obey it, the court can order the child into protective custody. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-97(b).
All hearings must be conducted expeditiously and a dispositive order shall be issued no later than one year after the petition is filed, unless just cause has been shown for delay. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-106.
Representation of Parties
An agency cannot accept a voluntary surrender of parental rights without legal representation when:
• in the agency’s opinion, the parent appears incapable of exercising informed judgment; or
• the birth parent refuses to sign the surrender or assume responsibility for the child.
Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 290-9-2-.06(4)(n), 5(h).
In a termination proceeding, or any rehearing or appeal, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent the child and a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem may be same person as the child’s counsel, or a different person. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-98(a). If the child’s parent(s) are indigent and desire to be represented by counsel, the court shall appoint an attorney. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-98(b).
An order terminating parental rights shall be entered upon a court finding adoption is in the child’s best interests, after considering the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and moral condition and needs, including the need for a secure and stable home. Ga. Code Ann. § 19-8-11(a)(3).
An order that terminates a parent’s rights has no durational limit; it terminates such parent’s rights and obligations to the child and the child’s rights and obligations of child to the parent, including rights of inheritance. The parent is no longer entitled to notice of adoption proceedings regarding the child and has no right to object to the adoption or participate in the proceedings. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-93.
If the court orders parental rights terminated, it may grant an order under Ga. Code § 15-11-55 upon a finding from clear and convincing evidence that the child is a deprived child. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-94(c).
If a parent’s rights are terminated and the child has no remaining parent having rights, the court must first try to place the child with a person related to the child by blood or marriage or with member of the child’s extended family. If the court is unable to place the child, the court can give custody to the Department of Human Resources or a licensed child-placing agency, place the child in a foster home, or take other suitable measures for the child’s care and welfare. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-103(a).
A copy of every final order terminating parental rights must be sent by the court to the Office of Adoptions department within 15 days of filing. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-103(c).
If an adoption petition is not filed within one year after the date of the disposition order, the court shall review the child’s circumstances every six months to determine whether or not efforts have been made to assure the child will be adopted for as long as the child is unadopted. Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-103(e).
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