Some of the most emotional cases in the courtroom happen when parents give up their rights to parent their children. This can happen in different situations: A teenage mother, for instance, realizes she can’t raise the child and places it for adoptions.
Most of the hard cases, however, come at the end of a child protection proceeding.
Sometimes, when I expected tears and a very emotional hearing, I am (unpleasantly) surprised. In one case, Mother agreed to terminate her parental rights, as she was in prison. The law requires that a parent sign the voluntary termination of parental rights document in the presence of a judge. As I was going through Shakopee that week, I offered to stop by the Women’s Correctional Facility there to witness her signature.
I arrived at the prison, went through the metal detector and emptied my pockets and briefcase for inspection. I was escorted into a small conference room just the other side of the solid steel door that clanked and locked behind me. Mother soon came into the room.
I started to say something about what a hard and difficult decision this was, when the mother interrupted me. Could we please get this over with? She didn’t want to be late for supper.
I guess not every woman has those strong maternal instincts.
On the other hand, I recall a case where the parents were addicted to methamphetamine. That is a terrible affliction and quite difficult to overcome. After unsuccessful attempts at treatment – and another arrest for possession of the drug – the parents realized that it was in their child’s best interest to be raised by someone else. One of the grandparents stepped forward and offered to care for the child. The parents agreed to give sole legal and physical custody of the child to Grandma. (In that case, the parents’ rights were not terminated.)
There were lots of tears at the hearing, and the parents acknowledged that they let their child down. At the end of the hearing, because the parents’ rights were not terminated and Grandma would be raising the child, I was able to tell the parents that one chapter in the story had closed, but the book was not finished. They still had the opportunity to sober up and proved themselves. While they likely would never parent the child, they could be a part of their child’s life.
It was up to them.
Actually, it’s always up to them. Judges don’t terminate parental rights – the parents do. Judges only sign the paperwork that makes it official.