In Tennessee, to terminate a parent’s rights the petitioner (Agency or prospective adoptive parents) must prove grounds “against” the parent AND also must prove that termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest. In most cases, proof of grounds is the difficult part, but occasionally grounds are easy and a trial will be more about what is in the child’s best interest. Tennessee law sets out the factors judges must consider when determining the child’s best interest in a termination case.
Many psychological professionals, foster parents and lawyers have observed that Tennessee’s “best interest of the child” factors are oddly weighted in favor of the birth parent and not the child. The current factors don’t place much weight on the child’s need for continuity and stability, the child’s emotional attachments, the child’s fear of a birth parent, or a birth parent’s delay in working toward reunification.
This summer and fall, a group of Tennessee Bar Association members who practice adoption law hammered out more child centered factors. The proposed factors take into account modern science regarding the needs of children, particularly children who have experienced trauma, disruption and medical insults like prenatal drug exposure. I was privileged to work on this project. A number of psychological professionals provided input as well.
The product is now a bill before the Tennessee legislature, HB200/SB205.
I am excited about this bill. Read a copy here: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/112/Bill/HB0200.pdf
If you want to read the current law and the proposed changes comparatively, you will find the current best interest of the child factors at T.C.A. 36-1-113(i):
T.C.A. 36-1-111(i) In determining whether termination of parental or guardianship rights is in the best interest of the child pursuant to this part, the court shall consider, but is not limited to, the following:
(1) Whether the parent or guardian has made such an adjustment of circumstance, conduct, or conditions as to make it safe and in the child’s best interest to be in the home of the parent or guardian;
(2) Whether the parent or guardian has failed to effect a lasting adjustment after reasonable efforts by available social services agencies for such duration of time that lasting adjustment does not reasonably appear possible;
(3) Whether the parent or guardian has maintained regular visitation or other contact with the child;
(4) Whether a meaningful relationship has otherwise been established between the parent or guardian and the child;
(5) The effect a change of caretakers and physical environment is likely to have on the child’s emotional, psychological and medical condition;
(6) Whether the parent or guardian, or other person residing with the parent or guardian, has shown brutality, physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse, or neglect toward the child, or another child or adult in the family or household;
(7) Whether the physical environment of the parent’s or guardian’s home is healthy and safe, whether there is criminal activity in the home, or whether there is such use of alcohol, controlled substances or controlled substance analogues as may render the parent or guardian consistently unable to care for the child in a safe and stable manner;
(8) Whether the parent’s or guardian’s mental and/or emotional status would be detrimental to the child or prevent the parent or guardian from effectively providing safe and stable care and supervision for the child; or
(9) Whether the parent or guardian has paid child support consistent with the child support guidelines promulgated by the department pursuant to § 36-5-101.