The most common way to terminate a parent's rights is by voluntary relinquishment. Technically speaking, a relinquishment is the voluntary surrender of parental rights. There are no pattern forms for relinquishments, but adoption attorneys and juvenile courts have relinquishment forms available. A relinquishment contains the parent's verification of their relationship to the child, a statement regarding whether they are of Native American ancestry, an affirmative statement that adoption is in the child's best interests, consent to adoption, acknowledgment that parental rights will be terminated upon acceptance of the relinquishment by the court and consent to termination, specific instructions on how the parent can revoke the relinquishment, notice that the relinquishment will not be presented for at least 48 hours, waiver of notice of further proceedings, and a statement that there is no fraud or duress involved in signing the relinquishment. The relinquishment must be witnessed.
When Birth Parents Are Minors or Disabled
Minors are able to relinquish their parental rights as are persons with disabilities. Usually a separate attorney is hired to consult with the birth parent. Cognitive disabilities, communication disabilities or other impairments can raise questions for the court about the birth parent's ability to knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily relinquish parental rights. Thus it is critical to hire an attorney with relevant experience to be able to explain to the court the nature of the consultation and the evidence supporting the position that the relinquishment was knowing, intelligent and voluntary. The attorney should provide a written report to that effect as well as be available for the adoption finalization proceeding.
If a birth parent refuses to relinquish parental rights, the petitioner can proceed with an involuntary termination. The birth parent must be given notice of the termination. The legal standard is clear, cogent and convincing evidence. The grounds for termination are 1. Best interests of the child and 2. The birth parent failed to perform parental duties under circumstances showing a substantial lack of regard for his/her parental obligations AND is withholding consent to adoption contrary to the best interests of the child. If a birth parent fails to appear for a termination hearing, after having been properly notified of the hearing, his/her parental rights can be terminated.
Child Support and Other Issues
When an order terminating parental rights is entered, that birth parent's current child support obligation ends. If the birth parent owes back support, he/she still has to pay the back support. The ending of child support is figured using the termination order, not the relinquishment. If a child is a Native American child as defined by the Indian Child Welfare Act, you have to proceed under federal statutes. There are greater protections for Native parents. If a parent who has voluntarily relinquish revokes his/her consent to adoption, you can proceed with an involuntary termination. Involuntary termination of parental rights by the state is a different type of proceeding. I have a separate Legal Guide on that issue.
Although people without lawyers can handle a lot of family law issues themselves, adoption is not a good area for this. It is worth it to hire an experienced adoptions attorney in your area. Select an attorney who primarily does adoptions, both public (from the state) and private. You may think you want one kind of adoption and learn that another may better suit your needs and wishes. Also, make sure the lawyer is currently doing adoptions. A lot has changed in adoption practice over the years. A lawyer who hasn't done an adoption in years may be just as helpless someone who is not an attorney. Even what seems to be a simple adoption is worth hiring a lawyer. There are a lot of procedural issues with adoptions and you don't want to try to figure it out on your own.