Does Going to Jail Automatically Terminate Parental Rights?

Posted by Jonathan Jerkins | Aug 03, 2022 | 0 Comments

You lose many rights when you're incarcerated, but you don't stop being a parent. You will not automatically lose parental rights just for going to jail, but it's important to know what might happen to your rights if you are in prison.

You Don't Forfeit Parental Rights Automatically Upon Incarceration

In most cases, you do not lose parental rights simply because you are in prison. Even after a conviction, you may retain parental rights, and your child may have the right to foster care while you're incarcerated. However, a state agency or family member may file to terminate your rights if you have a serious criminal conviction or if you do not maintain contact with your child.

If you had custody of your child before going to prison, you may lose those custody rights. Losing custody is not the same as losing parental rights, as you can regain custody once you are out of prison.

In North Carolina, your child may be placed in foster care while you are incarcerated. Technically, leaving a child in foster care for more than 12 months without maintaining contact could be grounds for terminating parental rights. To hold on to your parental rights while in prison, you must seek to stay in contact with your child and the agency handling their care while you are behind bars.

Typical Reasons for Terminating Parental Rights in North Carolina

While you are incarcerated, other family members may be able to file to terminate your parental rights. Asking to have someone else's parental rights taken away can be challenging, and the court may only grant this request in certain circumstances.

The most common reasons the court may terminate parental rights are:

  • Abuse or neglect of the child
  • Leaving a child in foster care for more than 12 months
  • Failing to pay child support
  • Failing to establish paternity (fathers)
  • Dependency
  • Abandonment
  • Committing a violent felony
  • Loss of parental rights of another child

When someone else files to terminate your parental rights, the court always considers the child's best interest.

Assistance from Skilled Family Law Attorneys

If you have questions about what happens with a child while their parent is incarcerated, the skilled attorneys at Jerkins Family Law can assist you. Call us at 919-719-2785 or contact us online, and we can discuss your situation.

About the Author

Jonathan Jerkins

Jonathan "Jay" Jerkins, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, intentionally focuses his practice on all aspects of North Carolina family law litigation and negotiations. Jay was admitted to the practice of law in North Carolina in 2014.


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