How to Involuntarily Terminate Parental Rights in Illinois

Termination of Parental Rights in Illinois Explained | How to Involuntarily Terminate Parental Rights

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

In this article we will explain Illinois law regarding termination of parental rights.  We answer the question, “on what grounds can parental rights be terminated in Illinois?”  We explain how to involuntarily terminate parental rights in Illinois, how to prove that an Illinois parent is unfit, and what happens if an Illinois parent is deemed unfit.

On What Grounds Can Parental Rights Be Terminated in Illinois?

Parental rights can be terminated in Illinois in various ways, including:

  • Voluntary consent to adoption or surrender of parental rights;
  • A finding by the court that the biological parent is “unfit”;
  • A finding by the court that the alleged father in question is not the biological or adoptive father of the child; or
  • A finding that the father in question fathered the child as a result of criminal sexual abuse or assault.

How to Involuntarily Terminate Parental Rights in Illinois

Parental rights can only be terminated on the basis of “unfitness” through either an adoption case or a juvenile case initiated by the state.  The typical scenario in an adoption case is when one of the biological parents has remarried and the new spouse would like to adopt the child.  In this case, the biological parent seeking to have his or her new spouse adopt the child must prove that the other parent is unfit to be a parent, generally based on one of the grounds discussed below.

Alternatively, if a step-parent is not willing to adopt the child, the state may initiate a juvenile case to terminate the parental rights of an abusive or neglectful parent based on “unfitness.”  This type of case cannot be initiated by the other parent.  

To learn more about proving that an alleged father is not the biological father of the child, check out our article: Illinois Paternity Law Explained.   

How to Prove that an Illinois Parent is Unfit

How to Prove a Parent Unfit in Child Custody Cases in Illinois

Any of the following factors are grounds to establish that an Illinois parent is unfit to have parenting responsibility with respect to a child:

  • Abandoning the child;
  • Failing to maintain reasonable interest, concern or responsibility with respect to the child’s welfare;
  • Continuous or repeated substantial neglect of the child;
  • Extreme or repeated cruelty to the child;
  • Physical abuse;
  • Failure to protect the child from conditions in his or her environment that are injurious to the child’s welfare;
  • Conviction of certain “depraved” crimes, such as murder or sexual assault;
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug use;
  • Continuous or repeated failure by parent to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, or shelter despite being physically and financially able to do so; or
  • Mental impairment or illness that prevents the parent from discharging parental responsibilities.

In a hearing to determine the fitness of a parent, the burden of proof is on the party seeking to show that that the parent is unfit.  This must be done by clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard of proof than the default standard, which is a significant amount of of the evidence.  

Courts are less likely to find a parent to be unfit if there is not another parent involved or another person willing to adopt the child.  

The parent whom the unfitness claim is being made against may counter a claim of abandonment or lack of reasonable interest in the child by providing proof that:

  • He or she has attempted to create a relationship with the child;
  • He or she has been paying child support;
  • He or she has been attempting to visit and/or correspond with the child; or
  • That the other parent was interfering with his or her attempt to maintain an interest in the child.  

What Happens if an Illinois Parent is Deemed Unfit?

Outside of the context of an adoption case, if the court finds that a parent is unfit and there is another parent involved in the child’s life, the other parent will receive a greater allocation of parenting time and responsibility.  If there is not another parent in the child’s life, the child will be placed in the care of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.  

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How to Prove that an Illinois Parent is Unfit in Illinois

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