The child adoption process can be a simultaneously joyful and stressful undertaking. At the other end of the spectrum, separation and divorce proceedings often involve emotionally charged disagreements over child custody and visitation rights. Both of these situations have something in common: the legal necessity of reckoning with parental rights.

The Nevada legislature has a number of laws and precedents that revolve around parental rights. What are these laws? How do they correlate with petitions to terminate parental rights? The following information will discuss the answers to these and other questions.

What are Nevada’s Parental Rights Laws?

Most states have laws on the books that explicitly define, or at least imply the existence of, core parental rights. In Nevada, Bill SB314 was signed into law by the governor on June 5th, 2013. The bill states that the “interest of a parent in the care, custody and management of the parent’s child is a fundamental right.”

This amendment to Nevada state law dovetailed with previous court cases that set a precedent for parental rights. For example, in 2002 the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that “[s]tatutes that infringe upon [parental rights] are… subject to strict scrutiny and must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest… [In order to terminate parental rights] a petitioner must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the child’s best interests and that there is parental fault.”

Thus, Nevada laws related to parental rights ensure that such rights cannot be summarily or hastily taken away. Rather, there must be a comprehensive judicial examination, along with sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a parent is unfit, before parental rights can be successfully terminated.

The Process of Terminating Parental Rights

It is important to note that a parent cannot terminate his or her own parental rights just to avoid paying child support, or for similar reasons. In many cases, one parent seeks the termination of the other parent’s rights during separation and divorce proceedings. Another common scenario occurs when an adult seeks to adopt a child, but must first file for the termination of the rights of the biological parent or parents.

In order to terminate the parental rights of another party, there are several steps that an individual must go through:

  • The applicant must fill out three important documents: a Civil Cover Sheet, the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights, and a Notice of Hearing. When filling out the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights, it is important that the applicant be exceptionally detailed as to the reasons why he/she feels that the parent’s rights should be revoked, since the judge that presides over the hearing will lean heavily on this information in his deliberations.
  • After filling these forms out, the applicant must file them with the district court in his/her county.
  • The applicant must then ensure that the appropriate papers are served to the parent in question, or in some cases to the nearest known living relative of the parent living in Nevada. If the applicant is receiving public assistance, then he/she must also serve notice to the Child Support Office.
  • The applicant cannot personally serve papers to the parent. The individual that serves the papers must be a disinterested party, and at least 18 years old. The applicant has the option to use the sheriff’s department or a private processing service to serve the papers for a fee. In general, the papers must be served at least 20 days before the date of the hearing.
  • At the hearing, the applicant will present his or her case before the judge, and the defendant will have an opportunity to respond. If the judge rules in the applicant’s favor, the parent does have the right to appeal. If the matter is contested, it will almost certainly be set for a contested evidentiary hearing (in other words, a trial). Otherwise, the parental rights of the defendant are subsequently terminated.

Common Reasons to Seek Termination of Parental Rights

There may be several reasons why one parent would petition for the termination of the other parent’s rights under Nevada law. Such reasons could include:

  • Severe or chronic abuse or neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol (especially long-term abuse)
  • Abandonment of the child or family
  • Long-term mental illness or parental deficiency
  • Involuntary termination of parental rights over another child
  • Failure to support child
  • Failure to maintain contact with child

Courts also have the right to suspend or revoke parental rights if a parent is convicted of a certain class of felony, such as a violent crime, or if the parent will be imprisoned for a long time and there are no viable alternatives to placing the child in foster care.

It is vital to note that in many, if not the majority of cases, the court will not accept the word of one parent against another as sufficient evidence to terminate parental rights. Thus, if one parent feels that there is compelling reason for the court to terminate the rights of the other parent, then that first parent should do everything possible to document his or her concerns, and provide positive proofs that back up his or her claims.

Enlist the Help of Legal Experts in Nevada

Cases that involve the termination of parental rights can be mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. These cases are often charged with strong feelings from both sides, and infected with unyielding animosity. Nevertheless, if a child’s life, wellness, or future prospects are in peril, then a parent or legal guardian must do what’s in the child’s best interests, regardless of the cost.

At Willick Law Group, we have years of experience in both prosecuting and defending termination of parental rights actions. As Nevada’s premier family law firm, we know the procedures and legal subtleties of these cases inside and out. If you want to ensure that your child’s welfare is protected, then don’t risk going it alone. Instead, allow us to leverage our decades of accumulated legal knowledge to safeguard the rights of your family. Don’t delay: reach out to our team of legal experts today, and let us help you navigate this difficult situation.

Marshal S. Willick