Birth Parent Rights
As a biological parent of a child, you have the right to make decisions regarding the care and keeping of your child, so long as it does not jeopardize the health and safety of the child. Sometimes this includes the difficult decision to give your child up for adoption.
With respect to your emotional and financial well-being, however, you should never feel compelled to relinquish your parental rights without first understanding how that decision might affect you in the long run. Therefore, if you are thinking about giving up your child for adoption, it is important to know of the limits of your birth parent rights -- the most drastic being the termination of parental rights.
Termination of Parental Rights in General
There are several grounds for termination of parental rights -- both voluntary and involuntary. Generally, birth parents have the right to choose what is in the best interest of their children and this includes the difficult decision whether to give them up for adoption.
On the one hand, when birth parents choose to offer their child for adoption they are voluntarily terminating their parental rights. Conversely, when birth parents have their parental rights terminated for them, this is known as an involuntary termination of the rights of birth parents.
Voluntary Termination and Consent
Before voluntary termination can take place, state laws require one or both birth parents to legally "consent" to the adoption. Consent occurs when birth parents legally agree (without coercion, threat, or force) to relinquish all rights and duties of a child to allow an adoption to take place.
Most states require consent to be in writing and done before a judge or other court-appointed person. This applies equally to biological mothers and biological fathers who have established paternity. (Read a discussion of Unmarried Fathers and Adoption.)
Furthermore, many states have designed programs to help ease the transition for all parties involved -- including children, birth parents, and adoptive parents -- to prevent anxiety, trauma, coercion, or other negative psychological effects that may come during the adoption process.
If one or both parents are deceased or have lost their parental rights for other reasons, however, consent may be given by the following:
- A guardian of the child
- A court that has jurisdiction over the child
- An agency or person that has custody of the child
- A close relative of the child
Unlike voluntary termination, there are times when birth parents rights can be terminated involuntarily if certain conditions are met. For involuntary termination, most states look to the best interest of the child and determine whether specific reasons exist to end the biological parent-child relationship.
The most common grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights include:
- Severe child abuse or neglect of the child
- Mental illness or incapacity based on alcohol or drug use of the parent
- Conviction of a crime by the parent involving children
- Conviction of a crime by the parent requiring jail time beyond which time would negatively impact the child
Depending on the state, the exact moment that birth parents rights may be terminated can range anywhere from immediately after a child's birth to up to 30 days thereafter (or more in limited cases.) Therefore, because terminating birth parent rights is a serious matter, most states have strict timing requirements that must be met before a birth parent's rights can be terminated.
As a general rule, consent to adoption is irrevocable since consent is meant to be a lasting and binding agreement to help ensure a stable environment for the child. Some states do not allow birth parents to revoke their consent to adoption. Other states allow extremely limited situations for revoking consent to adoption -- usually before adoption has been finalized -- and may include the following circumstances:
- Fraud or coercion was involved
- The state allows a set period of time for revoking consent
- The state (or other governing body) determines that revocation is in the best interest of the child
- The birth parents and adoptive parents mutually agree to revocation
Because adoption laws vary, it is important to check the adoption laws in your particular state.
Talk to an Attorney About Birth Parent Rights
Whether you've offered your child for adoption or are adopting a child yourself, it's important to know where all parties stand with respect to their rights and responsibilities. While adoptive parents are the primary guardians and caregivers, birth parents may still retain certain rights in certain situations. If you have any questions, an experienced family law attorney will be able to provide answers.