Family Law

Birth Parent Rights

The decision to give a child up for adoption is a difficult one that should only be undertaken after careful thought and consideration about the parents' ability to raise the child, the emotional impact on both the parents and child, and the long-term consequences of the decision. Birth parents should never feel coerced or forced into making a decision to give their child up for adoption, and parents should understand how the decision affects their parental rights.

Voluntary or Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

When parents choose to give a child up for adoption, this is called a "voluntary termination of parental rights." In other words, the parents consent to adoption. However, in the event of child abuse, neglect or abandonment, the state can petition the courts for an involuntary termination of parental rights. Imprisonment, and mental or physical illness may also be grounds for involuntary termination.

When giving a child up for adoption, states require the "consent," or agreement, of the parents, or other legal guardian. The exact rules regarding consent vary from state to state, but usually require that consent must be in writing and must occur before a judge or other designated official.

Under normal circumstances, consent is given by the child's biological mother and biological father (if paternity has been established). However, if the parents have already lost or terminated their parental rights, or if the parents are deceased, consent may be given by:

  • An agency or person that's been given custody of the child
  • A guardian or guardian ad litem
  • A court that has jurisdiction over the child
  • A close relative of the child

Most states have laws banning the "coercion" of a birth parent to relinquish parental rights. Coercion can include threatening a birth parent, forcing the parents to give up rights, lying about the circumstances of the potential adoption, and shaming a parent into giving up parental rights. Any activity that even borders on coercion should be avoided, since it could jeopardize the validity of the adoption.

Revoking Consent to Adopt

Under certain circumstances, the consent to adopt may be revoked. However, the goal of adoption is to give children the security and stability of a permanent home. Because revoking consent to an adoption can causes disruptions and emotional turmoil in a child's life, states and courts only allow consent to be revoked for specific reasons. These include:

  • If there was fraud or coercion
  • If the state legally allows birth parents to change their minds within a predetermined period of time
  • If revocation is in the best interests of the child
  • If the birth parents and adoptive parents mutually agree to the revocation
  • If the adoption has not been finalized

The Rights of Biological Fathers

By law, both parents must consent to a child's adoption. However, if the biological father is absent, his identity is unknown, he is unaware of the pregnancy or he doesn't contest the adoption, then the adoption will likely proceed in his absence. If the birth mother or adoption agency knowingly allows an adoption to move forward without the birth father's consent, then this increases the risk that the birth father can contest the adoption, and the adoption might be overturned.

Men who think they've fathered a child, and who want to exercise their parental responsibilities, should register in the "putative father registry" in their state, if such a registry exists. The registry is for men who believe they are a child's father, but were not married to the child's mother when the child was born. Putative fathers who want a say in whether a child is adopted are required to show that they are the biological father, and registration is one step toward establishing paternity of a child.

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