The names for the documents used to relinquish parental rights vary from state to state, but all are used to accomplish the same goal: to sever the legal relationship between a parent and child. There are a variety of reasons why a parent would terminate rights to her child, and once they are terminated, they can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reinstate. A parent considering filing a petition to relinquish parental rights should thoroughly research this process and what it entails with the aid of an experienced family lawyer to ensure she fully understands the choice she is making.
Petition to Relinquish Parental Rights
The legal form to terminate parental rights typically has a straightforward name. In Indiana, this form is called Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights; in New Jersey, it is known as Termination of Parental Rights. There are also forms parents can use to relinquish their parental rights in conjunction with a child’s adoption. In New Jersey, this form is called Surrender of Custody and Consent for Adoption.
Family law forms, including parental rights petitions, are handled at the county level. When a parent voluntarily terminates his parental rights, or when another adult files a petition to seek custody of his child, these documents are filed with the circuit court of the county where the adult filing the petition resides. Parents and prospective legal parents can obtain these documents from their county courthouses and in most states, online from a court's website.
Why Parents Relinquish Parental Rights
Parents relinquish their parental rights for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is because another adult, such as a stepparent or a grandparent, has filed a parental rights petition, and the parent agrees that the child would be better off under the stepparent or grandparent’s permanent care. A parent who places his child for adoption must also terminate his rights to the child.
Sometimes, parental rights are terminated without the parent’s consent. This is done when the court, using evidence provided by child protective services, determines that it is not in the child's best interest for the parent to have access to the child. Child protective services operates under different names in each state. For example, in Illinois, this department is known as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In Hawaii, it is known as Child Welfare Services.
Completing a Stepparent Adoption
One of the most common reasons why parents terminate their rights to their children, either voluntarily or without their consent, is so that the child can be adopted by a stepparent. A child cannot have three legal parents. For a stepparent adoption to occur, the parent who is not married to the adult seeking the stepparent adoption must have his parental rights terminated.
A stepparent adoption also involves the adoptive stepparent filing a parental rights petition. Granting the adoptive stepparent rights to the child is not an automatic process; the court has the discretion to approve or deny a stepparent adoption based on what it deems to be in the child’s best interest. In most states, the child also has to consent to the adoption if he is over a certain age – 14 in Alabama; 12 in North Carolina, for example.
Effects of Terminating Parental Rights
When a parent terminates her parental rights to her child, her name is removed from the child’s birth certificate. This also terminates her rights to:
- Seek custody or visitation with the child.
- Seek child support.
- Legally change the child’s name.
- Consent or object to the child’s adoption.
- Make decisions on the child’s behalf.
Terminating parental rights does not absolve a parent of his obligation to pay child support, nor does it clear him of any pending child abuse charges he may be facing.
Read More: The Termination of a Father's Parental Rights
- Family Law Self-Help Center: Overview of Terminating Parental Rights
- Family Law Self-Help Center: File the Termination of Parental Rights Papers
- Adoption Network: Adoption Consent Laws by State
- New Jersey Department of Children and Families: Termination of Parental Rights
- New Jersey Department of Children and Families: Surrender of Custody and Consent to Adoption