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Recent Case Discusses Termination of Parental Rights

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Mar 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

The South Carolina Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in S.C. Dept. of Social Svcs. v. Seegars, in which it affirmed the Family Court's termination of Ms. Seegars' parental rights due to (a) willfully failing to provide support and (b) having a diagnosable condition unlikely to change within a reasonable time.
Under S.C. Code § 20-7-1572(4) the Family Court may order termination of parental rights if:

    The child has lived outside the home of either parent for a period of six months, and during that time the parent has willfully failed to support the child. Failure to support means that the parent has failed to make a material contribution to the child's care. . . .The court may consider all relevant circumstances in determining whether or not the parent has willfully failed to support the child, including requests for support by the custodian and the ability of the parent to provide support.

Whether a parent's failure to support a child is “willful” within the meaning of the statute is a question of intent to be determined in each case from all the facts and circumstances. Conduct of the parent which evinces a settled purpose to forego parental duties may fairly be characterized as “willful” because it manifests a conscious indifference to the rights of the child to receive support and consortium from the parent. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Broome, 307 S.C. 48 (1992).
Ms. Seegars argued that she made material contributions in accordance with her means because she made two partial payments toward child support and the toys, gifts, and money she gave to the children are evidence of material contribution. However, the S.C. Code § 20-7-1572(4) defines “material contribution” as “either financial contributions according to the parent's means or contributions of food, clothing, shelter, or other necessities for the care of the child according to the parent's means.” The Court found that toys are not included in this definition and would not be considered in concluding whether she made a material contribution to the children.
S.C. Code § 20-7-1572(6) also provides that the Family Court may order termination of parental rights if:

    The parent has a diagnosable condition unlikely to change within a reasonable time including, but not limited to, alcohol or drug addiction, mental deficiency, mental illness, or extreme physical incapacity, and the condition makes the parent unlikely to provide minimally acceptable care of the child. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-1572(6).

In this case, the licensed clinical psychologist, who conducted a psychological evaluation of Ms. Seegars, diagnosed her with schizotypal personality disorder and alleged physical and sexual abuse. She concluded that Ms. Seegars “is not currently or likely ever capable of appropriately caring for her children, financially, emotionally, or intellectually.” Therefore, the Court found that there was clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Seegars had a diagnosable condition which was unlikely to change within a reasonable time, and this condition made her unlikely to provide minimally acceptable care of the children.
The Court concluded that termination of Ms. Seegars' parental rights is in the best interests of Children. You can read this opinion, which contains a thorough discussion of these two grounds,here.

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Ben is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocates. He is one of only four attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. To schedule a consultation with Ben Stevens call (864) 598-9172.

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