This year brought changes by way of statute to termination of parental rights (TPR) in response to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s holding in Chism v. Bright, 152 So.3d 318 (Miss. 2014). In Chism, the father brought a contempt action to restore visitation with his son. The mother counterclaimed seeking termination of parental rights. The Chancellor (trial Court) terminated the father’s rights and he appealed. Initially, the Court of Appeals of MS affirmed the lower Court, but the MS Supreme Court reversed and remanded because evidence was insufficient to support termination.
The Supreme Court in Chism found that:
“Parents have a “fundamental liberty interest … in the care, custody, and management of their child” that cannot be taken away without clear and convincing evidence of the required statutory grounds for termination of parental rights. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 754, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); see also J. Jackson and M. Miller, Encyclopedia of Mississippi Law § 78:39 (2002) (citing Miss.Code Ann. § 93–15–103(3)). State statutes providing for the termination of parental rights are subject to strict scrutiny and “[c]ourts may not add to the enumerated grounds.” Deborah H. Bell, Bell on Mississippi Family Law 409 (2005) (citing Gunter v. Gray, 876 So.2d 315 (Miss.2004)); see also Rias v. Henderson, 342 So.2d 737, 739 (Miss.1977) (holding that statutes affecting fundamental constitutional rights are subject to strict scrutiny).Moreover, we affirm the overarching premise that termination of parental rights is a last resort. This intent is evidenced by the Legislature in Section 93–15–103(4), which states:Legal custody and guardianship by persons other than the parent as well as other permanent alternatives which end the supervision by the Department of Human Services should be considered as alternatives to the termination of parental rights, and these alternatives should be selected when, in the best interest of the child, parental contacts are desirable and it is possible to secure such placement without termination of parental rights.Miss.Code Ann. § 93–15–103(4) (Rev. 2013) (emphasis added). In short, Abby has not proven the statutory prerequisites found in Section 93–15–103(1) that must be met. As such, we decline to address the *324 specific ground for termination analyzed by the chancellor, or whether termination is in Johnny’s best interest. For these reasons, we reverse the termination order and remand this case to the Union County Chancery Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
- Abandonment – conduct by the parent, whether consisting of a single incident or actions over an extended period of time, that evinces a settled purpose to relinquish all parental claims and responsibilities to the child. Abandonment may be established by showing:
(i) For a child who is under three (3) years of age on the date that the petition for termination of parental rights was filed, that the parent has deliberately made no contact with the child for six (6) months;(ii) For a child who is three (3) years of age or older on the date that the petition for termination of parental rights was filed, that the parent has deliberately made no contact with the child for at least one (1) year; or(iii) If the child is under six (6) years of age, that the parent has exposed the child in any highway, street, field, outhouse, or elsewhere with the intent to wholly abandon the child.
- Desertion – Any conduct by the parent over an extended period of time that demonstrates a willful neglect or refusal to provide for the support and maintenance of the child or That the parent has not demonstrated, within a reasonable period of time after the birth of the child, a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood
Be aware there are other statutes exist regarding termination, adoption and like.