Oregon Law: Can a Father Lose Rights for Abandonment?

By Roger Jewell

Generally, proceedings to terminate a father’s parental rights are brought by the state of Oregon in juvenile court. While the state’s purpose for filing for termination of a father’s rights is the protection of the child’s best interests, there are reasons why a private individual may bring such an action.

Purpose of State Parental Rights Termination Proceedings

The Oregon Department of Human Services usually brings parental rights termination proceedings for a child in its custody that is to be placed with another guardian or with the other parent. The state may also bring such an action to assist in the adoption of the child by another individual or parent. Such an action only terminates the parent named in the proceeding and does not affect the rights of any unnamed parent.

Why Private Individuals May Bring Termination Proceedings

The most common reason a private individual may pursue a parental termination action is so that a party, other than the natural father, can adopt the child. The second most common reason for a private individual terminating a father’s rights is to prevent him from visiting the child.

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Abandoned Child Defined

Oregon statutes provide that an abandoned child is a child left under circumstances in which the identity of his parent is unknown and cannot be ascertained, despite a diligent search, and the parent has not come forward to claim the child for at least three months. In actions brought by the state, the court will permit a parent accused of abandonment to assert a defense justifying why the abandonment occurred.

Proving Abandonment

A court hearing must be held on the question of termination of parental rights at least 10 days after, and no later than six months after, the filing of a petition by the Department of Human Services to terminate a father’s parental rights. Abandonment must generally be proven by “clear and convincing proof.” In cases where the child is a Native American, the standard of proof is abandonment “beyond a reasonable doubt” and that serious physical or emotional harm to the child may result without such a court order. Testimony from the child may be taken if the court elects to compel it. Such testimony may be taken outside the presence of the child’s parents; however, legal counsel for the parent may not be precluded from witnessing the child’s testimony. The court will make written findings and the court’s order can be the subject of appeal. The court is required to appoint legal counsel for any parent who cannot afford an attorney in a termination of parental rights proceeding.

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