May 26

Termination of Parental Rights in Tennessee

A Parent's Constituional Right to Raise a Child

Both the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution protect a biological parent's right to raise a child, free from interference. This right is one of the oldest liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clauses of the federal and state constitutions. Courts cannot interfere with this right unless a parent voluntarily relinquishes it by (1) surrendering that right to another, (2) a parent abandons his or her child, or  (3) a parent behaves in such a manner that the right must be limited or terminated by the appropriate tribunal. The elevation of the right to parent free from interference to such a sacred place in our society has been strengthened through statutory mechanisms developed to regulate the method by which that right is relinquished, limited or terminated.  Providing such significant protection for a parent’s rights can leave little room for the protection of the child's right to be raised in a loving, stable home when a court is called to intervene on behalf of a child. 

Court Procedure for Termination of a Parent's Rights

The Supreme Court of Tennessee’s recent opinion, in re Kaliyah S. et al, addresses the method by which Courts in Tennessee are to consider the efforts that have been made by the Department of Children’s Services to reunify a family. While this is something that must be considered by the court in adjudicating any case in which a parent’s rights are sought to be terminated, it is now only a factor in the court’s best-interest analysis. Proof of reasonable efforts to reunify are no longer a precondition to termination of a parent’s right. Judges tasked with finding a balance between a parent’s right to raise their child, and a child’s right to be raised in a nurturing environment should find themselves on a much clearer path with this opinion.   

 The full opinion can be found here: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/kaliyahs.opn_.pdf

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