Family Law

Father's Rights: Do I Have to Agree to Adoption?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn how dads can protect their parental rights.

What Are My Rights as an Unmarried Father?

An unmarried father has the burden of proving parentage, also called paternity— which can be accomplished through an acknowledgement of paternity when the child is born, or by filing a paternity suit in court. Once you have established that you are in fact the biological father of the child at issue, the child’s mother must obtain your consent before placing your child for adoption. Moreover, as a father, you can seek custody and/or visitation time with your child and the child’s mother will be bound by any custody order and must allow you to visit your child as directed by the court.

What Happens If My Parental Rights Are Terminated?

While initially all fathers are entitled to time with their kids, you can lose those rights if you've committed child abuse, or have abandoned or neglected your child. In extreme circumstances, a court can terminate a father’s parental rights. For example, a father can lose parental rights for pattern of child or domestic abuse, serious drug addictions, or extreme neglect. In certain states, if a father abandons a child for a certain period of time, the court can terminate that parent’s rights. Courts take terminations of parental rights very seriously and will only sever parental ties if doing so serves a child’s best interests.

A termination of parental rights is permanent, so a father can’t simply earn back his rights through good behavior. If a court has severed your parental rights, the other parent no longer needs your consent to place your child for adoption. Although you may always be the child’s biological parent, you will no longer have a legal right to object to a potential adoption.

Can I Prevent a Stepparent from Adopting My Child?

Even if your ex-spouse remarries, your rights as a father supersede the rights of any stepparent or grandparent. If your ex’s new spouse wants to adopt your child, he or she can’t do so without your consent. A court won’t consider whether a stepparent would be a better parent than you. Quite simply, if your parental rights haven’t been terminated, and you don’t consent to an adoption, a judge won’t allow a stepparent to adopt your child.

Keep in mind, an adoption severs a biological parent’s rights. Even if you’re feeling pressured by your ex to consent to an adoption, do not do so unless you’re comfortable giving up your parental rights forever. Once an adoption is completed, all previous court orders granting you custody or visitation will be null and void. Even if your ex promises you visitation following an adoption, he or she will have no legal obligation to follow through on the promise and can cancel visits at any point.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I’m not very involved in my child’s life and my ex is pressuring me to sign adoption paperwork. What can I do if I’m not ready to give up my rights?
  • I can’t afford to pay child support, but I don’t want my parental rights terminated. Do I have to agree to an adoption?
  • I never married my child’s other parent and haven’t established paternity, but we both know the child is mine. How can I prevent my ex from placing our child for adoption without my consent?
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