Most cases of adoption in America require that the parental rights of the birth parents be terminated before adoptive parents may legally adopt a child. Depending upon the circumstances, this termination of parental rights may be voluntary or involuntary.
What Are Parental Rights?
Parents have the right to make a vast number of decisions with respect to a child's life. They are permitted to choose whether their children will attend public or private school or be homeschooled. Parents select a child's health care providers. They may even decide which religion their children will practice, or whether they will practice no religion at all. Of course, with these parental rights comes a myriad of responsibilities. In some cases, these responsibilities are too much for the birth parents to handle. As such, birth parents may choose to place their child up for adoption.
Put simply, adoption is a legal process in which parental rights are transferred from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. This transfer may be initiated by the birth parents themselves, or by the state. The state will only initiate action to terminate a birth parent's parental rights in extreme cases in which the child is at risk of being abused, neglected or abandoned. If the state initiates action to terminate a birth parent's parental rights, the birth parent may appeal.
What Are the Rights of Birth Parents?
The laws regarding adoption vary from state to state. It is vital that birth parents who are considering adoption know and understand the laws of their state prior to consenting to terminate their parental rights. The best way to accomplish this is to seek counsel from an attorney who specializes in adoption.
Most states permit birth parents to revoke their consent to terminate parental rights within a certain amount of time. However, some states do not. In other words, some states consider relinquishment of parental rights permanent and irrevocable immediately upon the signing of the consent form. That is why it is essential that decisions be made with full knowledge of the laws and with substantial time to reflect.
In some states, the termination of parental rights requires a court hearing. In some states, all that is required is documentation signed before representatives of an adoption agency, a notary or other designated individual.
Once birth parents voluntarily terminate their parental rights (and once any possible time for revocation has passed), the birth parents may not have any parental rights with respect to that child. And once the actual adoption process is fully complete, it is extremely difficult to overturn.
Are There Any Exceptions?
Many states may allow revocation or disruption of a pending adoption in cases where the birth parents can show strong evidence of fraud, coercion, duress, undue influence or misrepresentation in connection with their voluntary termination of parental rights.
Birth parents may not be forced to sign relinquishment papers, even in cases in which the birth parents have accepted financial or other assistance from an agency or from prospective adoptive parents. If birth parents were led to believe that they must sign relinquishment papers after receiving assistance, they may be able to show strong evidence of any or all of the above.
Another special case is that in which the biological father (or birth father) was not advised or permitted to participate in the adoption decision. The birth father may contest, disrupt or dissolve an adoption in cases where he was known yet not advised of an adoption, allowed to participate in the adoption plan or permitted to explore his desire to become a parent.
Whether or not adopted children should know their birth parents is an emotionally charged question. In recent years, the stigma previously attached to adoption has all but vanished.
Adopted children are naturally curious about their birth parents, and some will go to any lengths to meet them. This presents challenges for adoptive parents, who may fear losing their role.
The surge in open adoptions over the past 30 years has made the process to find birth parents much easier. Since the advent of the Internet, an entire industry has sprung up to meet the growing demand.