The Termination of Parental Rights In New Hampshire

In 1981, during the landmark Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, Justice Blackmun wrote:

“Surely, there are few losses more grievous than the abrogation of parental rights.”

These words are as true today as the day they were written 32 years ago. However, the Supreme Court has imbued states with the responsibility and right to terminate parental relationships when it is in the best interests of the child and where there is valid cause to do so. In the state of New Hampshire, the statute that provides for the involuntary termination of parental rights is called RSA 170-C. If termination is ordered, New Hampshire family division and probate courts exercise exclusive jurisdiction over such matters. When parental rights are terminated, in the eyes of New Hampshire state law, a parent and child become legal strangers to one another.

The Basis for Termination of Parental Rights In New Hampshire

The state of New Hampshire will file for the involuntary termination of parental rights when a set of circumstances presents itself in which a minor child cannot be returned to their home because of an inability on the parents’ part to provide for their child’s basic needs or because a risk of harm by the parent is present. In New Hampshire, a termination for petition can be filed, according to the RSA 170-C statute, by:

  • Either the father or mother
  • The minor child’s legal custodian or guardian
  • A foster parent, if the child has resided in their home for more than 24 months continuously
  • An appropriate agency, such as the Division for Children, Youth, and Families

The legal wording of RSA 170-C provides for 6 specific circumstances in which a termination petition will be granted. The specific circumstances include:

  • The child has been abandoned by their parents.
  • The child’s parents have continuously and substantially failed to provide their child with the basic level of care that is required for their physical, mental, and emotional health when the financial means to do so are present.
  • There has been a failure to remedy any situations that violated the Child Protection Act, within twelve months of the original violation.
  • Whether by illness or deficiency, the parents are deemed to be mentally incompetent to care for a child.
  • The parents either willingly or knowingly enabled or allowed severe mental, sexual, emotional, or physical abuse of a child to occur.
  • One or both parents has been convicted of the murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder of another child of theirs, a sibling (including stepsiblings) of the child in question, or the child of the other parent. Additionally, a felony assault that results in harm to any of the aforementioned parties will also result in the termination of parental rights.

The Exceptions to RSA 170-C

The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act requires for states to initiate parental rights terminations proceedings when the statutory grounds have been met; however, under New Hampshire state law, there are some exceptions to these circumstances, including:

  • The parent(s) of a minor child have not been granted access to the services outlined by the DCYF original plan for reunification for parent and child.
  • The child in question has been placed under the care and supervision of a relative.
  • State agencies in New Hampshire have failed gathered compelling evidence to present a clear cut case that the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child.

The Effects of Parental Rights Termination

When presented with a case for the involuntary termination of parental rights, New Hampshire family division courts will carefully consider the best interests of the child before a decision is rendered. If a suitable party is unavailable to represent the child’s interest, then a Guardian Ad Litem will be appointed on their behalf.

In the United States, parents have a constitutional right to raise their offspring how they deem best. As a result, the state of New Hampshire has significantly raised the burden of proof that a petitioner must meet to determine if termination of parental rights is truly appropriate. The New Hampshire Supreme Court, in State v. Robert H, decreed that, in order for involuntary termination to be granted, the standards of RSA 170-C must have been met with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a statement regarding the case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court declared:

“The rights of parents (over the family) are held to be natural, essential and inherent rights, within the meaning of the New Hampshire Constitution…The permanent termination of the rights of parents over their children is even more final than involuntary commitment or delinquency proceedings.”

The Aftereffects of Parental Rights Termination

If the rights of one parent have been terminated, but the other parent still maintains their legal rights, then the minor child will be placed in the custody of that parent; however, if both parents have lost their parental rights, then the state of New Hampshire will assume legal responsibility and custody of the child until the appointment of a suitable guardian.

The state will seek out relatives of a minor child or other individuals to whom the child might be attached emotionally to act as guardians on behalf of the child. If a suitable guardian cannot be located, then the child will be placed in the New Hampshire foster care system until the child is adopted by an eligible family or the minor child reaches the age of 18.

The proceedings for the termination of parental rights in the state of New Hampshire are intricate, complex, and can be confusing. Therefore, a parent who is facing such a hearing is encouraged to engage the services of an experienced NH family lawyer. In addition to providing a parent in understanding the particulars of their case, he or she will provide invaluable assistance in ensuring that a client’s constitutional rights as a parent are protected.