Code of the District of Columbia

Subchapter III. Proceedings Regarding the Termination of Parental Rights of Certain Neglected Children.


§ 16–2351. Purpose of the subchapter; construction of provisions.

(a) The general purposes of this subchapter are to:

(1) encourage stability in the lives of certain children who have been adjudicated neglected and have been removed from the custody of their parent by providing judicial procedures for the permanent termination of the parent and child relationship in the circumstances set forth in this subchapter;

(2) ensure that the constitutional rights of all parties are recognized and enforced in all proceedings conducted pursuant to this subchapter while ensuring that the fundamental needs of children are not subjugated to the interests of others; and

(3) increase the opportunities for the prompt adoptive placement of children for whom parental rights have been terminated.

(b) This subchapter shall be liberally construed to promote the general purposes stated in this section.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2351.

1973 Ed., § 16-2351.


§ 16–2352. Definitions.

(a) As used in this subchapter, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1) “Parent and child relationship” includes all rights, powers, privileges, immunities, duties and obligations existing under law between a parent and child, including rights of inheritance. The words apply equally to every child and every parent regardless of the marital status of the parents of the child.

(2) “termination of the parent and child relationship” means the adjudication that a child is free from the custody and control of either or both of his or her living parents by means of a court order that completely severs and extinguishes the parent and child relationship.

(b) The terms found in this subchapter which are defined in section 16-2301 of this chapter shall be given the same definition herein.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2352.

1973 Ed., § 16-2352.


§ 16–2353. Grounds for termination of parent and child relationship.

(a) A judge may enter an order for the termination of the parent and child relationship when the judge finds from the evidence presented, after giving due consideration to the interests of all parties, that the termination is in the best interests of the child.

(b) In determining whether it is in the child’s best interests that the parent and child relationship be terminated, a judge shall consider each of the following factors:

(1) the child’s need for continuity of care and caretakers and for timely integration into a stable and permanent home, taking into account the differences in the development and the concept of time of children of different ages;

(2) the physical, mental and emotional health of all individuals involved to the degree that such affects the welfare of the child, the decisive consideration being the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child;

(3) the quality of the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent, siblings, relative, and/or caretakers, including the foster parent;

(3A) the child was left by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian in a hospital located in the District of Columbia for at least 10 calendar days following the birth of the child, despite a medical determination that the child was ready for discharge from the hospital, and the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child has not taken any action or made any effort to maintain a parental, guardianship, or custodial relationship or contact with the child;

(4) to the extent feasible, the child’s opinion of his or her own best interests in the matter; and

(5) evidence that drug-related activity continues to exist in a child’s home environment after intervention and services have been provided pursuant to section 106(a) of the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Act of 1977, effective September 23, 1977 (D.C. Law 2-22; § 4-1301.06(a)). Evidence of continued drug-activity shall be given great weight.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 15, 1990, D.C. Law 8-87, § 4(b), (c), 37 DCR 50; June 8, 1990, D.C. Law 8-134,§ 2(d), 37 DCR 2613; Mar. 24, 1998, D.C. Law 12-81, § 10(hh), 45 DCR 745; Apr. 20, 1999, D.C. Law 12-264, § 57(b)(2), 46 DCR 2118.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2353.

1973 Ed., § 16-2353.


§ 16–2354. Motions.

(a) Except as provided by subsection (b)(3) of this section, a motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship may be filed by the District government or by the child through his or her legal representative.

(b) A motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship:

(1) May be filed when the child who is the subject of the motion has been adjudicated neglected at least 6 months prior to the filing of the motion and the child is in the court-ordered custody of a department, agency, institution, or person other than the parent;

(2) May be filed immediately when, despite reasonable efforts, the parent could not be located for the fact finding hearing and during the period from the child’s removal from the home to the fact finding hearing; and

(3) Except as provided in subsections (c) and (g) of this section, shall be filed by the District government if:

(A) The child has been in court-ordered custody under the responsibility of the District for 15 of the most recent 22 months;

(B) The Division has determined the child to be abandoned;

(C) A court of competent jurisdiction has determined that the parent has:

(i) Committed murder of a child sibling or another child;

(ii) Committed voluntary manslaughter of a child sibling or another child;

(iii) Aided or abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit such a murder or such a voluntary manslaughter; or

(iv) Committed a felony assault that has resulted in serious bodily injury to the child who is the subject of the petition, a child sibling, or another child; or

(D) The Division has determined the child to be subject to intentional and severe mental abuse.

(c) The District government shall seek to be joined as a party to a motion filed by the child if any of the factors in subsection (b)(3) of this section apply and the child has filed an adoption petition.

(d) A motion for termination of the parent and child relationship shall include but not be limited to:

(1) The name, sex, date and place of birth, and current placement of the child;

(2) The name and title of the petitioner;

(3) The name and address of the child’s parent;

(4) A plain and concise statement of the facts and opinions on which the termination of the parent and child relationship is sought;

(5) A specification as to the health of the child;

(6) A statement as to the general prospects for or the barriers, if any, to the adoption of the child; and

(7) A statement as to the various efforts taken by the moving party to locate the parent of the child.

(e) When any facts required pursuant to subsection (d) of this section are not known to the moving party, if he or she shall so state in the motion, or on a motion by any party, for good cause shown, the judge may direct the filing of a bill of particulars to inform the moving party of the precise nature of the allegations contained in the motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship.

(f) The Agency shall take steps to identify, recruit, process, and approve a qualified family for an adoption concurrently with the District government’s filing of the motion or its joinder to the petition.

(g) The District government need not file a motion if the Agency determines and has documented in the case plan that:

(1) The child is being cared for by an approved kinship caregiver and adoption is not the child’s permanency plan;

(2) A compelling reason for determining that filing such a motion would not be in the best interest of the child; or

(3) The District has not offered or provided to the family of the child, consistent with the time period in the case plan, such services as the District deems necessary for the safe return of the child to the child’s home, if reasonable efforts are required to be made with respect to the child pursuant to § 4-1301.09a.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 24, 1998, D.C. Law 12-81, § 10(ii), 45 DCR 745; June 27, 2000, D.C. Law 13-136,§ 301(g), 47 DCR 2850; Apr. 4, 2001, D.C. Law 13-277, § 3(a)(9), 48 DCR 2043.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2354.

1973 Ed., § 16-2354.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 4-1303.03.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 13-136 rewrote this section, which previously read:

“(a) A motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship may be filed by the District of Columbia government or by the child through his or her legal representative.

“(b) A motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship may be filed only when the child who is the subject of the motion has been adjudicated neglected at least six (6) months prior to the filing of the motion and the child is in the court-ordered custody of a department, agency, institution or person other than the parent; except that the motion for termination may be filed immediately—

“(1) upon an adjudication that the child was abandoned; or

“(2) when, despite reasonable efforts, the parent could not be located for the factfinding hearing and during the three (3) months prior to the hearing.

“(c) A motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship shall include but not be limited to:

“(1) the name, sex, date and place of birth, and current placement of the child;

“(2) the name and title of the petitioner;

“(3) the name and address of the child’s parent;

“(4) a plain and concise statement of the facts and opinions on which the termination of the parent and child relationship is sought;

“(5) a specification as to the health of the child;

“(6) a statement as to the general prospects for or the barriers, if any, to the adoption of the child; and

“(7) a statement as to the various efforts taken by the moving party to locate the parent of the child.

“(d) When any facts required pursuant to subsection (c) of this section are not known to the moving party, if he or she shall so state in the motion, or on a motion by any party, for good cause shown, the judge may direct the filing of a bill of particulars to inform the moving party of the precise nature of the allegations contained in the motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship.”

D.C. Law 13-277 substituted “Agency” for “Department of Human Services” in subsecs. (f) and (g).

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 301(f) of the Adoption and Safe Families Emergency Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-117, July 28, 1999, 46 DCR 6558).

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 301(f) of the Adoption and Safe Families Legislative Review Emergency Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-178, November 2, 1999, 46 DCR 9714).

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 301(f) of the Adoption and Safe Families Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-240, January 11, 2000, 47 DCR 556).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 301(f) of Adoption and Safe Families Temporary Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Law 13-56, March 7, 2000, law notification 47 DCR 1978).


§ 16–2355. Consideration of termination of the parent and child relationship at review hearings.

(a) After a child adjudicated neglected by the Division pursuant to this chapter has been committed by the Division to the custody of a department, agency or institution for more than eighteen (18) months and no hearing on a motion for the termination of the parent and child relationship has been held within the preceding twelve (12) months, the Division shall, at a review hearing, determine why a motion to terminate the parent and child relationship has not been filed.

(b) For each child who remains in custody for three (3) years or more, the Division shall, at each annual review hearing, determine why a motion to terminate the parent and child relationships has not been filed.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2355.

1973 Ed., § 16-2355.


§ 16–2356. Parties.

Parties to a proceeding for the termination of the parent and child relationship shall be the child, the parent of the named child, and the agency having the legal custody of the child. The judge may at his or her discretion, name on his or her own motion or in response to a motion for joinder or intervention, join additional parties to a proceeding to terminate the parent and child relationship.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2356.

1973 Ed., § 16-2356.


§ 16–2357. Notice.

(a) When a motion to terminate the parent and child relationship is filed, a judge shall promptly set a time for an adjudicatory hearing and shall cause notice thereof to be given to all parties.

(b) A judge shall direct the issuance to and personal service upon the child’s parent of a summons together with a copy of the motion to terminate the parent and child relationship.

(c) When it is appropriate to the proper disposition of the case, a judge may direct the service of a summons upon other persons.

(d) If a personal service under this section cannot be effected, then notice shall be made constructively pursuant to rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2357.

1973 Ed., § 16-2357.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 16-4603.09.


§ 16–2358. Conduct of hearings.

(a) All hearings and proceedings on a motion to terminate the parent and child relationship shall be held by the judge, without a jury.

(b) All hearings and proceedings held pursuant to this subchapter shall be recorded by appropriate means.

(c) Except in hearings to declare a person in contempt of court, the general public shall be excluded from hearings and proceedings arising pursuant to this subchapter. Only persons necessary to such hearings and proceedings shall be admitted, but a judge may, pursuant to rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, admit such other persons as have a proper interest in the case or the work of the Division on the condition that they refrain from divulging information identifying the child involved in the proceedings or members of his or her family.

(d) If a judge finds it is in the best interests of the child, he or she may temporarily exclude the child from any proceeding. Under no circumstances, however, may counsel in the case be excluded.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2358.

1973 Ed., § 16-2358.


§ 16–2359. Adjudicatory hearing.

(a) A judge shall begin the adjudicatory hearing by determining whether all parties are present and whether proper notice of the hearing has been given. If the parent has been given proper notice but has failed to appear the judge may proceed in his or her absence.

(b) A judge shall hear evidence presented by the moving party and the burden of proof shall rest upon the moving party.

(c) Every party shall have the right to present evidence, to be heard in his or her own behalf and to cross-examine witnesses called by another party.

(d) All evidence which is relevant, material, and competent to the issues before the judge shall be admitted.

(e) Notwithstanding the provisions of D.C. Official Code, sections 14-306 and 14-307, neither the spouse or domestic partner privilege nor the physician/client or mental health professional/client privilege shall be a ground for excluding evidence in any proceeding brought under this subchapter.

(f) A judge may enter an order permanently terminating the parent and child relationship after considering all of the evidence presented and after making a determination based upon clear and convincing evidence that termination of the parent and child relationship is in the best interest of the child. If a judge does not find that sufficient grounds exist for termination, the motion for termination of the parent and child relationship may be dismissed.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 3, 1979, D.C. Law 2-136, § 805(d), 25 DCR 5055; Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85,§ 4, 27 DCR 2900; Sept. 12, 2008, D.C. Law 17-231, § 20(h), 55 DCR 6758.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2359.

1973 Ed., § 16-2359.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 17-231, in subsec. (e), substituted “spouse or domestic partner” for “husband/wife”.


§ 16–2360. Disposition after termination.

(a) If a judge finds that sufficient grounds exist for the termination of the parent and child relationship, the judge shall so order and decree and shall vest the legal custody of the child in a department, agency or institution.

(b) The department, agency or institution to which a child is committed after the termination of the parent and child relationship pursuant to this subchapter shall be responsible for seeking the prompt adoptive placement of the child and, if an adoptive placement has not been made within three (3) months, the department, agency, or institution shall list the child on all appropriate local, regional and national adoption exchanges. If an adoptive placement has not been made within six (6) months of the termination, a hearing shall be held and within every six (6) months thereafter the department, agency or institution shall report to the Division on its efforts to secure an adoptive placement, including but not limited to the following information:

(1) the extent to which an adoption has been explored with the child’s foster parent and any reasons why an adoption by the foster parent is not appropriate;

(2) all adoption exchanges with which the child has been listed and the date of each listing; and

(3) the limitations placed on the families to be considered for the adoption of the child.

(c) The information provided pursuant to subsection (b) shall be provided to the guardian ad litem at least ten (10) days prior to a review hearing.

(d) A notice of a review hearing shall be given as prescribed by rules of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to the child’s guardian ad litem. Any person with whom the child has been living for six (6) months or more shall be given notice of hearings and shall upon his or her request be joined as a party to a review hearing.

(e) If the Division finds that the department, agency or institution vested with the custody of the child is not making sufficient efforts to secure an adoptive placement for the child or that inappropriate limitations have been placed on potential adoptive families, the Division may order such additional efforts as it deems appropriate or may order that the imposition of inappropriate limitations be eliminated or may transfer the power to consent to an adoption together with the vestment of legal custody to any other licensed child placement agency.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2360.

1973 Ed., § 16-2360.


§ 16–2361. Effect of termination decree.

(a) An order terminating the parent and child relationship divests the parent and the child of all legal rights, powers, privileges, immunities, duties and obligations with respect to each other, except the right of the child to inherit from his or her parent. The right of inheritance of the child shall be terminated only by a final order of adoption.

(b) When an order terminating the parent and child relationship has been issued, the parent whose right has been terminated shall not thereafter be entitled to notice of proceedings for the adoption of the child by another nor shall such parent have any right to object to the adoption or otherwise to participate in the proceedings.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 24, 1998, D.C. Law 12-81, § 10(jj), 45 DCR 745.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2361.

1973 Ed., § 16-2361.


§ 16–2362. Decrees.

(a) Every order of the Division terminating the parent and child relationship shall be in writing and shall recite the findings upon which such order is based, including findings pertaining to the court’s jurisdiction.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of § 16-2330, all orders terminating the parent and child relationship entered pursuant to this subchapter shall not be final and effective until the time for noting an appeal has expired and, if a notice of appeal has been entered, the order shall not become effective until the date of the final disposition of the appeal.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 24, 1998, D.C. Law 12-81, § 10(kk), 45 DCR 745.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2362.

1973 Ed., § 16-2362.


§ 16–2363. Confidentiality of records.

The provisions of §§ 16-2332 and 16-2333 shall apply to all juvenile case records and juvenile social records as defined therein which are created pursuant to the proceedings under this subchapter.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; Mar. 24, 1998, D.C. Law 12-81, § 10(ll), 45 DCR 745.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2363.

1973 Ed., § 16-2363.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 16-2364.


§ 16–2364. Unlawful disclosure.

Whoever willfully discloses, receives, makes use of, or knowingly permits the use of information concerning a child or other person in violation of section 16-2363 of this subchapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in [§ 22-3571.01] or imprisoned for not more than ninety (90) days, or both. A violation of this section shall be prosecuted by the Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341; June 11, 2013, D.C. Law 19-317, § 281(e), 60 DCR 2064.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2364.

1973 Ed., § 16-2364.

Effect of Amendments

The 2013 amendment by D.C. Law 19-317 substituted “not more than the amount set forth in [§ 22-3571.01]” for “not more than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250)”.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 281(e) of the Criminal Fine Proportionality Emergency Act of 2013 (D.C. Act 20-45, April 1, 2013, 60 DCR 5400, 20 DCSTAT 1300).

Editor's Notes

Applicability of D.C. Law 19-317: Section 401 of D.C. Law 19-317 provided that the act shall apply only to offenses committed on or after June 11, 2013.


§ 16–2365. Termination decrees of other jurisdictions.

If the parent and child relationship has been terminated by judicial decree in another jurisdiction that decree, unless it is against the public policy of the District of Columbia, shall have the same force and effect in the District of Columbia as to matters within the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia court.


(Sept. 23, 1977, D.C. Law 2-22, title IV, § 410, 24 DCR 3341.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 16-2365.

1973 Ed., § 16-2365.