One of the most difficult actions a court can undertake is the termination of a parent’s parental rights over their child. Termination of parental rights entirely severs the bond between parent and child, and is usually reserved for only the most extraordinary of cases. Two recent New Hampshire Supreme Court opinions, In re: Sophia Marie H. and In re: Faith T., reiterate just how difficult it is to terminate a parent’s rights over their child.
On October 1, 2013, the Supreme Court issued an opinion called In re: Sophia Marie H. In that case, the father was incarcerated for approximately two years after the child was born and in a divorce decree, the mother was awarded sole decision-making and residential responsibility. The father sent a number of letters to the child while he was incarcerated and tried to phone the mother, but the mother changed her telephone number. When the father was released from prison, he attempted to contact the mother, but was rebuffed.
The mother filed a petition seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights based upon abandonment and non-support. The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights based upon his failure to support the child. The Supreme Court reversed because termination based upon non-support requires a finding that the parent refuses to financially support the child despite being able to do so. Because there was no evidence showing the father was financially able to support the child, his parental rights could not be terminated based upon non-support. Similarly, the Court refused to terminate the father’s rights based upon abandonment because the father did attempt to maintain a relationship with the child, but was thwarted by the mother.
On October 16, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a second opinion on termination of parental rights called In re: Faith T. In that case, the guardians of a child attempted to terminate the mother’s parental rights based upon non-support. The mother had an order to pay child support to the guardians and did so even though the child support amount was minimal. Similar to the Sophia Marie H. case, because the guardians failed to introduce evidence to show the mother was capable of paying additional support to the child, but refused to do so, the Supreme Court refused to terminate the mother’s parental rights.
Both the Sophia Marie H. and Faith T. cases demonstrate that the New Hampshire Supreme Court will go to great lengths to protect a parent’s rights over their child. A party that seeking to terminate parental rights comes to court with a heavy burden of proof and must be prepared to present overwhelming evidence in support of their petition.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].