Georgia Dad Turns Life Around, Gets Custody Of Daughter Back

When a parent faces the potential termination of his or her parental rights, the long-term effects can be devastating. However, when faced with such circumstances, it may be possible to make positive changes and secure your parental rights or get them back if they have already been taken from you.

In the case of In re S.M.W., the Georgia Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether the lower court properly decided to terminate a father's parental rights. The case originally came about when the child was 4 years old. She was placed in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services due to allegations that she was being neglected and not properly supervised. At the time, the child's mother was incarcerated and the child was in the care of her father.

As a part of the process of terminating the rights of a parent, before placing a child in foster care, the court must hold a termination hearing to prove that the child is experiencing parental "deprivation." The state must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent is unfit and that the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child.

Proving unfitness

In Georgia, these four factors must be present in order to prove that a person is an unfit parent:

  • The child is being deprived.
  • The deprivation is caused by a lack of parental care and control.
  • The failure to provide adequate care and control is likely to continue.
  • The deprivation, if continued, will likely cause serious harm to the child, which may include physical, mental, emotional or moral harm.

In the case of In re S.M.W., the lower court determined that the father was unfit and recommended termination of his rights. The court did this based on two main concerns: that he was unable to drive and that the mother was an unstable parental figure.

The Court of Appeals reversed the decision and found in favor of the father, who had stated his intention to divorce the child's mother, who previously lost her parental rights. The father had found a steady job and a new place to live. The facts of the case overwhelmingly indicated that the father completed meaningful substance abuse treatment for alcohol-related issues, complying with the requirements that the state put in place while the case was pending. In addition, all of the employees of the Department of Family and Children Services that worked with the father agreed that he was cooperative. The placement worker even described the man as "the most stable person that she had worked with." The court also considered testimony that the child loved her father and wanted to remain in his care and that the father worked hard to create a strong bond with the child.

In considering the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals determined that the lower court failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the child's deprivation was likely to continue if left in the care of her father. The appeals court reversed the lower court's order that terminated his parental rights.

If you are facing termination of your parental rights, or if a court has already terminated your rights, an experienced family law attorney may be able to help you prove that termination is not the proper or the best option for your family. Contact an attorney today to determine the next step in preserving your rights.