In New York State, Termination of Parental Rights Cases Vary By County: Two Family Law Experts Explore Why

Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group is pleased to announce the publication of “Termination of Parental Rights in New York State: Why Such a Variation By County?” coauthored by Bari Z. Weinberger, our firm’s founder managing partner, and Daniel Pollack, professor of social work at Yeshiva University. The article appears in the July issue of the peer reviewed academic journal Family Court Review, published by Wiley.

Termination of parental rights (TPR) is a process governed by state law that legally ends the parent-child relationship. It’s an extreme and serious step that is typically associated with child abuse and neglect. As a recent federal data revealed, TPR rates vary widely between states. In New York State, the focus of the article, there were approximately 30 TPRs for every 100,000 children in 2014. Within New York State, TPR rates vary further by county.

“Following a termination of their rights, a parent has no right be notified of or consent to legal proceedings which affect the disposition of the child. Given this serious and lasting impact, we need to understand what circumstances give rise to TPR so we can do a better job supporting families and keeping children safe,” said Ms. Weinberger.

The authors’ analysis of TPR rates in New York State compared data between counties to understand differences and explore possible explanations for differing rates, including possible effects of income disparities, numbers of single-parent households, and poor mental health, binge drinking, and drug addiction rates. 

“After examining available data, we discovered that income disparity correlated most strongly with whether a county would have higher or lower TPR rates. We found higher rates of TPRs among the dozen counties with the lowest average household income compared to the dozen counties with the highest average household income,” noted Ms. Weinberger

The authors conclude that income disparities may trigger a series of cascading effects, ranging from lack of access to child care and parent support resources, to difficulties with accessing legal help. 

“There could be many reasons for this kind of effect. Lower income, even if not technically below the poverty line, can make it substantially more difficult to afford child care. Children may then be left unattended more frequently at younger ages [a sign of neglect] …

Parents may lack access to private legal representation and other sources of support. The outcome of the TPR case could be based on something as simple as the parent not having access to a car or public transportation to attend the court hearing. This would be a problem parents of higher income would not typically face.

Intangible disadvantages are not as apparent. For example, economically disadvantaged parents may have also experienced their own family history of trauma and parental abandonment as children, and are perpetuating this in their own lives as parents,” the authors wrote. 

Ms. Weinberger and Mr. Pollack encourage researchers to use their exploratory findings for extended analysis of TPR data from New York and other states.

According to Mr. Pollack, “We try to preserve the unity of the family to the fullest extent possible. There are times when that bond is legally severed. Losing ‘parental rights’ to your child means you no longer have the right to say where your child lives, goes to school, or anything else. All contact with your child ceases unless the child’s legal guardian agrees. In the eyes of the law, you become a stranger to your own child. This exploratory study prods readers to investigate the circumstances under which this drastic legal action takes place.”

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