The relative pros and cons of VR versus termination of rights

April 12, 2017

Surrendering rights or voluntarily relinquishing them, referred to as “VR”, or having them terminated, offers a parent slightly different pros and cons:

  • A surrender is less harmful than a termination, but only just by the slimmest of legal definitions.  The judge still has to accept the surrender and sign a termination order.  Therefore, it can be said that the parent was “terminated.”
  • In a surrender, the parent waives the right to appeal; if a parent loses a termination, she can appeal and there is beginning to exist some very helpful case law on “harm”, “best interests” and even technical, picky language in the TPR order that may be grounds for a reversal or at least a remand back to the trial court.
  • A TPR requires a finding of unfitness, whereas a voluntary surrender has no such finding.
  • A voluntary surrender, though usable against a parent, is no grounds for a later alleged dependency in and of itself as to any later children of the parent.  It can be grounds for an investigation, but not probable cause for dependency.
  • Some say that it rarely makes a difference whether a parent’s rights are terminated or voluntarily surrendered.  Either way, if future children become entangled in DFCS, the fact that the parent no longer has custody of child(ren) that were in care will be used against them.
  • Some say that the only good side to a voluntary surrender is that a parent can use it to try to  secure future contact (whether via letters, pictures, telephone calls, whatever the case may be).  A post-adoption contact agreement would be key to safeguarding such contact.
  • DFCS can use a TPR order as a basis to investigate if the parent gives birth again, but it would need current dependency as to the new child to actually remove and case law makes clear that just because a parent’s rights to another child were terminated does not by itself mean dependency for a later child, particularly if a parent has rehabilitated the causes of removal, dependency and termination of the earlier child.
  • If a later child was found dependent, the code suggests that a voluntary surrender would be deemed “aggravated circumstances” and/or “abandonment” as reasons that DFCS could refuse to propose a reunification case plan to a parent and go straight towards non-reunification and adoption  upon removal of another child because of language pertaining to “any other conduct evidencing an intent to relinquish parental duties”.