Termination of Parental Rights in North Carolina

Both the mother and father have parental rights in North Carolina. But in certain cases, a North Carolina court may determine that it is in the best interest of a child to terminate the parental rights of their biological or adoptive parents. These cases often involve child abuse, neglect, or drug or alcohol addiction. Often the decision is made after an adult family member or guardian petitions the court. The termination of parental rights may be part of a separation and divorce custody agreement or because a parent has voluntarily signed over his/her parental rights due to incapacity.

In North Carolina, termination of parental rights may be a step toward adoption of a child or lead to a child being placed in the state’s foster care system.

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we can help you through the complicated process of petitioning the court to terminate the parental rights of an estranged spouse when it is in the best interest of a child. We can help compile evidence of why termination of parental rights benefits the child, prepare the legal petition and represent you in the courtroom. Our legal team can help you fight a petitioner’s request that should not be granted.

Our experienced parental rights lawyers can provide high-quality representation and protect the rights and interests of you and the minor-age children under your care in Raleigh, Cary or elsewhere in Wake County. Contact us at (919) 829-1006 or online to discuss your needs today. 

Who Can Terminate Parental Rights in North Carolina?

The parents of a child who has not yet turned 18 in North Carolina have the right to make decisions on behalf of the child as well as the responsibility to maintain custody and provide care for the child. This includes ensuring the child has food and shelter, making medical decisions on behalf of the child and generally protecting the child from harm. But if a court in North Carolina decides it is in the child’s best interests, it may take away these rights and responsibilities.

Usually, the local county Department of Social Services (DSS) Child Protective Services petitions to take a child away from his or her parents in response to credible reports of child abuse or neglect. DSS is allowed to seek termination of parental rights as a last resort following intervention and extending counseling and other support to allegedly delinquent parents.

A North Carolina court also may consider a petition to terminate parental rights filed by:

  • One parent against the child’s other parent
  • The child’s guardian, including a guardian the court has appointed
  • The child’s presumptive adoptive parent(s)
  • A person who has lived with the child for two consecutive years or more
  • The child’s parent, such as a mother who puts an infant up for adoption

Reasons for Terminating Parental Rights

To terminate parental rights, the court must find that the parent is unfit and that it is in the best interest of the child that the parent or parents in question no longer have rights and responsibilities for the child. North Carolina law states several reasons why a court may grant a petition for termination of parental rights. They include:

  • Parental abuse or neglect of the child
  • Willfully leaving a child in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without attempting to change the circumstances for the placement
  • A court has awarded custody of the child to one parent in favor of the other or sole custody is part of a separation agreement
  • Failure of the father of a child born out of wedlock to claim the child
  • Parent’s inability to properly care for the child
  • Unjustified failure of a noncustodial parent to pay child support for one year or more
  • Conviction for a violent crime against a child or a sexual offense that resulted in the conception of the child.

Any parent who has willfully abandoned a child for six months or more can have their parental rights terminated. Abandonment means willfully failing or refusing to provide adequate means of support or attempting to conceal their whereabouts from a child to escape a lawful obligation to provide support.

A parent may voluntarily relinquish parental rights so someone else may adopt the child in response to a petition to terminate their rights. To do so, the parent must attend a hearing and state their intentions to the judge. However, a parent cannot give up parental rights to avoid paying child support or to avoid dealing with a child’s behavioral problems.

How to Terminate Parental Rights in North Carolina

Termination of a person’s constitutionally protected right to parent their child is very serious. Unless the Department of Social Services (DSS) is involved, an individual seeking termination of someone’s parental rights must present a compelling case to the court. 

A hearing to consider terminating parental rights goes through two stages: adjudication and disposition. 

In adjudication, the petitioner must prove with clear and convincing evidence that one or more statutory grounds for termination of parental rights exist (such as those listed above). If the court agrees, the proceeding moves to disposition, where the judge decides whether termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest. 

At this point, the petitioner must present a plan demonstrating that a change in legal parentage is in the child’s best interest.

DSS usually does not get involved unless there is an immediate need to remove children from the home for reasons of safety. A DSS petition for termination of parental rights will typically allege more than one grounds for termination and present a narrative account of DSS’s attempts to resolve the issues that required the state’s intervention. This will include reports of services offered or provided to the family, expectations for parental improvement (or lack thereof) and any prior court findings or orders.

There is no specific burden of proof in the disposition phase of a parental rights hearing. The judge will decide what’s in the child’s best interest based on the evidence presented by the petitioner and/or anyone challenging the petition.

To determine what is in the best interests of a child, a judge may consider:

  • The child’s age and/or maturity
  • Prospects for the child to be adopted
  • The child’s relationship with their parents
  • The quality of the relationship between the child and the proposed custodial or adoptive parent or guardian
  • Whether termination of parental rights aligns with DSS’s permanent plans for the child
  • Other relevant facts.

If the court does not find grounds for termination or finds that termination of parental rights is not in the child’s best interests, the judge will dismiss the case.

When a child remains in the custody of DSS or a licensed adoption agency following termination of parental rights, DSS is required to conduct hearings at least twice a year to examine the progress toward meeting objectives in DSS’s permanent plan for the child.

Why You Should Contact a Child Custody Lawyer

Removing a person’s right to oversee how their child is raised and cared for is a drastic change in the life of parent and child. It requires the petitioner to convince a judge that legal grounds for the decision exist and that it is necessary to ensure that the best interests of the child are met.

Our Raleigh parental rights attorneys have the skills, experience and compassion necessary to help you obtain what is best for your child and your family. If you are seeking full custody of a child or children that you have been caring for, our firm can help you get this process moving forward correctly. On the other hand, we can work with you to keep the court from making a decision that incorrectly voids your parental rights and is not beneficial to your child’s future.

As your attorneys, we can compile evidence to demonstrate to the court that you will promote the best interests and welfare of your children and represent you as you present your case in the courtroom. If you are seeking a change in parental rights, we can prepare all necessary filings and represent you in court. 

If we are assisting you with a separation and divorce, we will work to help you negotiate a parenting agreement before going to court so the decisions regarding child custody remain in the hands of your child’s parents instead of a judge’s.

Judges have a great deal of discretion in North Carolina family law cases. An attorney from Charles R. Ullman & Associates can make sure your case for ensuring the care and protection of your child or a child you intend to adopt is properly developed and presented. 

Talk to an Experienced Raleigh Parental Rights Attorney

A compassionate parental rights attorney s at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh have extensive experience helping to ensure that adults and children benefit from the rights and protections provided families by our state’s laws. We are dedicated to seeking child custody and adoptive arrangements that best meet the needs of the children and parents involved.

Contact our firm today at (919) 829-1006 in Raleigh for a consultation about how we can guide you through the decisions and legal requirements needed to ensure an outcome that meets the best interests of all involved.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.