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Utah Family Law Attorney Stephen Howard

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Utah Adoption and Parental Rights Termination

Is a petition to terminate parental rights filed in the district court or juvenile court?

Davis County Step-Parent Adoption LawyerA petition to terminate parental rights in Utah can be filed in either the district court or juvenile court. But determining which court the petition should be filed in will depend on the circumstances under which the petition is filed. If you or a loved one are involved in situation involving the potential termination of parental rights, contact us today to see how the right attorney can help you.

Utah Juvenile Court Jurisdiction to Terminate Parental Rights

Utah Code 78A-6-103 confers original and exclusive jurisdiction on the juvenile court system for certain types of proceedings. Cases involving the termination of parental rights under the Utah Termination of Parental Rights Act are included in this list. However, the statute's use of the terms "original" and "exclusive" jurisdiction are somewhat misleading. Normally, a grant of original and exclusive jurisdiction to the juvenile court would require that a petition for termination of parental rights could only be filed in the juvenile court. But this statute creates a loophole by including language which states "[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law." As discussed below, this exception makes it possible for a termination petition to be filed in the district court when it done for the purpose of facilitating the adoption of the child who is the subject of the termination petition.

Choosing the court in which to file a termination petition will also affect where an adoption petition can be filed. Under Utah Code 78A-6-103, if the juvenile court has previously entered an order terminating the parental rights of a parent then the juvenile court retains exclusive jurisdiction to hear the adoption petition. For this reason and as discussed below, it is often preferable to file both the adoption petition and the petition for termination of parental rights in the district court.

Utah District Court Jurisdiction to Terminate Parental Rights

As noted above, Utah Code 78A-6-103 states that "except as otherwise provided by law" the juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over petitions for termination of parental rights. An important exception is established under Utah Code 78B-6-112, which provides that a termination petition can be filed in the district court when done in order to facilitate an adoption. The termination petition can be joined with the adoption petition, or it can be filed separately either before or after the adoption petition is filed. It is common that an adoption decree is made final contemporaneously with the termination of parental rights. But the statute provides that a final order terminating parental rights can be entered prior to the entry of a final adoption decree.

When the ultimate goal is adoption, there are certain advantages to filing for termination of parental rights in the district court. Filing in the district court may not always be the best option. But often, by filing the petition to adopt and the petition to terminate parental rights in a single action in the district court, there can be significant time savings by reducing the number of court hearings involved as well as cost savings by reducing both court filing fees and attorney fees.

Finding an Adoption Attorney in Utah

Navigating the legal processes involved in adoption and parental rights termination actions can be difficult. Having the assistance of the right attorney can be critical. If you or a loved one are involved in or considering initiating an adoption or termination action, contact us today to see how we can help. We are pleased to provide legal services to clients in Davis, Weber, and Salt Lake counties, and throughout Utah.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, Morgan, and Wasatch Counties - and all of Utah.


Stephen W. Howard is Utah attorney, practicing as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC.
With offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties, we are pleased to provide legal services to clients throughout Utah.
Call 801-449-1409 to arrange for a confidential initial consultation.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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