Termination of Parental Rights

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In any adoption, the parental rights and duties of the birth mother and any potential birth father must be terminated by the court in order for the prospective adoptive family to adopt the child. This termination may occur by law upon signing relinquishment/consent or by judicial action. In many cases, the termination of parental rights is voluntary. The birth parents will voluntarily relinquish their rights to the child by signing the necessary legal paperwork and consent forms. Each state has statutes regarding how the termination must take place. Usually there is a delay between the birth of the child and the time when the birth mother may sign the relinquishment forms in order to ensure that she will not change her mind. If the birth mother is married, her husband is presumed to be the father of the child. Therefore, he must sign a relinquishment as to his parental rights after the birth as well. Most states allow for a presumed/alleged father to relinquish rights before the birth.
If the birth mother alleges that a certain man is the father of the child, he must sign the appropriate waiver/relinquishment forms in order to terminate his parental rights to the child. However, if the birth father is unknown or cannot be located, the rights of any potential birth father who appears after the adoption may be terminated using the state’s paternity registry if the state has such a registry/law. A paternity registry law basically says that if a man suspects he has fathered a child, he has the responsibility to timely register with the state paternity registry in order to prevent his parental rights from being terminated. If no such match is found, the state will provide a certificate certifying that no man has made a paternity claim to the child. This report/certificate will be filed with the court in the termination/adoption proceeding. Usually, a guardian ad litem will be appointed and will be present at the termination hearing in order to represent any unknown, unnamed and unidentified birth fathers and to testify that the paternity registry did not contain any claims to the child. A guardian ad litem also will be appointed to represent the child and to testify to the court that the termination of parental rights to the birth mother and any potential birth father is in the best interest of the child.

Adoption Finalization

The finalization of an adoption essentially transfers all legal parental rights and duties to the prospective adoptive parents. The following documents are required by most states for the finalization of an adoption:

  • If an adoption agency was appointed managing conservator of the child, a Consent to Adoption must have signed by the adoption agency and filed with the court.
  • The home study and post-placement reports must be on file with the court.
  • The decree of termination of the birth parents’ rights must be on file with the court.
  • The Social, Health, Education and Genetic History Report from the biological mother and all presumed/alleged biological fathers must be on file with the court.
  • Depending on the state’s requirements, the prospective adoptive parents’ criminal history and fingerprint cards must be on file with the court.

The finalization will take place at a hearing held in the state in which the adoption is being finalized. Once the Final Decree of Adoption has been entered by the court, the adoption is official. Using a certified copy of the decree, the adoptive parents may obtain a birth certificate naming themselves as the parents of the child and changing the child’s name if necessary. The decree establishes a legal parent–child relationship as if the child had been born to the adoptive parents.
Last updated: Sept. 26, 2008