If Your Parental Rights Are Terminated, That Can Either Be Done By A Jury Trial Or A Non-Jury Trial
Video Transcribed: What is a relinquishment and how is it different than having your parental rights terminated by the court? My name is Ryan Cannonie, I am the Tahlequah family attorney for Wirth Law Office in Cherokee County.
A question that comes up sometimes is when you’re in an Oklahoma deprived case and things haven’t gone well, or you recognize that you can’t actually take care of your kids right now, or in the immediate future, what do you do? Well, if there’s already a case going, if you’re pretty far into it, beyond three months into it, then you could be looking at the state filing a motion to terminate your parental rights.
Now, if your parental rights are terminated, that can either be done by a jury trial or a non-jury trial, or you can fail to appear and they be terminated kind of almost by default, there’s some testimony required, but there’s not a formal process, like you get with a jury trial, it just happens during the docket is what I mean by that.
Now you can have an attorney and go in there and fight, call witnesses, challenge their witnesses. If you go through a jury trial, you may win, if you win, that doesn’t mean your case is dismissed.
It just means that the termination failed and your case continues to go on with more reviews and they can try to terminate again at a later date, you can maybe prove yourself and get your kid back. Or they might recommend something like a guardianship.
Now, relinquishment on the other hand. Now you can do a relinquishment at pretty much any time in a deprived case, even after they file a petition to terminate your parental rights, you can still relinquish your parental rights.
Now, when you relinquish you and your attorney will go over a relinquishment form, there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered. Usually then after that, you’ll go into court, on the record a court reporter up there typing up a record for you and you’ll go back through all those questions again with the judge.
The big thing on that is that you’re doing this in the best interest of your children. For example, some things that have come up before when I was a prosecutor. You can’t relinquish your parental rights because you’ve been promised you’ll get visitation with the children or her child. You can’t relinquish her parental rights because you love the home they’re in and you want them only to be adopted by that home.
DHS, no one can guarantee that home is going to be where they’ll be adopted. A lot of times you can say, yeah, most likely, it’s 90% sure, but there’s a small window there where something may come up different. So it can’t be based on any coercion or bargain or anything like that. It can only be because this is in the best interest of your children.
Now, why would you ever relinquish your rights? Well, one reason parents do is because they acknowledge and say, Hey, I don’t want to move forward with this. I like where my kids are. I have a good relationship with the foster parents and they are going to let me have contact. Now, once again, you can’t condition anything on that, but you can have those agreements in place with the foster parents.
The problem is if they don’t honor them, there’s really not much you can do after that point. So you may relinquish for that reason. Some parents come in and just say, I’m tired of fighting, I don’t want to change what’s going on or I’m just done, I’m done messing with this. And they relinquished for that reason.
Another reason that I think is probably one of the reasons that gets left out, but it’s probably one of the more important things parents need to remember is if you relinquish your parental rights, you’re doing that voluntarily.
That’s the big part of why we do this by on the record, someone making a record of it like a court reporter, in front of a judge, with an attorney, you have documents you have to sign is because we want to show this whole thing was voluntary. That you knew what you were doing, and this was done just because, because you wanted to do it, not for any other reason outside of best interest.
The reason that being voluntary is important is because if you voluntarily relinquish your parental rights, according to the statute, an involuntary termination can be used against you in future cases. So if you have your rights terminated, you fight that and you don’t want it to happen. Well, that’s happened against your will, it wasn’t voluntary, so that’s an involuntary termination.
When you start looking at future cases and how DHS is going to look at any children you have in the future, a involuntary termination can be the basis of filing another deprived case against you. So it’s something that parents can look at and say I want to voluntarily relinquish, maybe in the future, I can be a parent to a different child. Compared to terminating parental rights, which has a lot more attached to it, negative for parents.
So if you find yourself in a situation and things aren’t going well, or you’re starting to reconsider working a plan, still contact an attorney because they’re the ones that are going to walk you through the process and is all hope lost. A lot of times people get in court and they’re hearing from all these different people in there that do not have you as a parent’s best interest in mind, they’re not there to advocate on your behalf.
So sometimes you’re being forced in a way into considering termination or relinquishment when you really may not even be at that step. I had a situation one time where a parent said that they’ve completed most of their plan, DHS disagreed, we went on and on and on and we were at the point of termination. We were actually set for a trial, a jury trial.
Then that parent got an outside attorney to come in, who then shows up to court with all these certificates, all these proof, the parent had done everything DHS had asked, and all of a sudden we had to pump the brakes pretty hard.
In the end she got her child back. So that’s a situation that could come up and just because you’re set for termination, or you’re being told to think about relinquishment doesn’t mean it’s always inevitable.
Now on the flip side, if you haven’t worked your plan and you’re looking at Oklahoma termination or Oklahoma relinquishment, it’s still good to talk to an attorney to see kind of what your benefits are and costs on each one of those. How they can impact not just this case in your life right now, but future children and your life in the future.
So if you find yourself in this situation, give us a call. You can call us at 918-932-2800 or you can go to tahlequahattorney.com, fill out a web form, we’ll have an Oklahoma DHS attorney get back with you and we’ll see if we can help you in any situation you’re in, especially as it applies to deprived.