Voluntary termination of parental rights in Illinois is possible, but it's not a cut-and-dried process. A parent cannot simply relinquish her rights to her child because she doesn't want to pay child support after her divorce. But in certain circumstances, such as circumstances in which the child’s quality of life would drastically improve if the parent no longer had rights to her, a parent can relinquish her parental rights through court action. These cases are handled by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
What Are Parental Rights?
Parental rights are the legal rights a parent has to her child. A child can only have two legal parents. If a child is born to a married mother, the mother’s husband is presumed to be the child’s father, and he is automatically granted parental rights. If the mother is not married when her child is born, her partner can obtain parental rights by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form or by working with the court later to establish his parentage.
In Illinois, these rules also apply to same sex couples – if a woman is married to her same sex partner when her child is born, her wife is automatically granted parental rights, and if they are not married, her partner must take additional steps to become the child’s legal parent.
This poses a challenge for families in which a child is born to a married woman, but the woman’s husband is not the child’s biological father. In a case like this, her husband is automatically the child’s father – and the child’s biological father has no parental rights until and unless the woman’s husband relinquishes his parental rights. Parental rights include:
- The right to spend time with the child.
- The right to seek and receive child support to aid with child-related expenses.
- The right to object to the child being placed for adoption.
- The right to make legal and healthcare decisions for the child.
- The right to make choices about where the child will attend school.
- The right to make choices regarding the child’s lifestyle, such as her religious upbringing.
- The right to claim the child as a dependent on his tax return.
- The right to add the child as a dependent on his health insurance policy.
- The child’s right to inherit the parent’s assets following his death.
When Can a Parent Relinquish His Rights?
Under most circumstances, a parent can only complete a voluntary termination of parental rights Illinois if there is another adult willing to step into her role and adopt the child. Often, this issue arises when a divorced parent remarries, and the parent’s new spouse seeks to adopt the child. This can also occur when a parent places a child for adoption through an adoption agency or through the state.
A parent can relinquish her parental rights to the state of Illinois, placing her child in foster care and making him available for adoption, by completing a Final and Irrevocable Surrender to an Agency for the Purpose of Adoption form and submitting it to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
If the parent agrees to the voluntary termination of parental rights Illinois as part of an adoption or simply to grant her former partner sole custody, she may sign an Affidavit of Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights form Illinois. This signed affidavit declares that the parent understands the action she is taking and consents to all the legal repercussions that come with signing it.
Not all Termination Petitions Are Approved
Not all petitions to voluntarily terminate parental rights are approved by the court. If the court feels the parent is simply trying to relieve herself of her financial or other responsibilities to her child and that doing so will only cause the child to suffer, it may reject the petition and require the parent to continue paying child support.
Similarly, if the child receives public welfare benefits or if a termination of the parent’s rights and financial support would mean the child has to receive public benefits, the court may reject the attempt to terminate parental rights. The court rules in accordance with what it deems to be in a child’s best interest, and it may rule that a child is better off receiving financial support from a parent despite having limited contact with that parent.
How to Relinquish Parental Rights in Illinois
In many cases, a parent relinquishing his rights to his child begins with a petition from another party to have his rights terminated. This could be because the child’s other parent has remarried and needs to have his rights terminated so her new partner can adopt the child, or she is seeking sole custody of her child. In the latter case, the court generally examines the parent’s relationship with the child in detail and will only approve a request to terminate parental rights if it determines that the parent has abandoned the child, neglected the child, harmed the child in some way, or otherwise exhibited behaviors that render him an unfit parent.
Documents like an Affidavit of Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights form Illinois and all related court hearings are handled by the circuit court of the county where the child or either parent resides. Upon receiving notice of the other parent’s desire to terminate his parental rights, a parent can consent to relinquishing them or challenge the petition, which requires him to show the court why he is a fit parent and should not have his parental rights terminated. If the parent consents to terminating his parental rights and the court approves the termination, the court files the document terminating their legal relationship.
Once a parent’s rights are terminated, his legal relationship with his child is over. His name is removed from the child’s birth certificate, the child can be adopted without his permission or consent, and it is up to the child’s legal parents whether the child is allowed to maintain any type of contact with the parent whose rights were terminated. He has no obligation to notify him of any of the child's milestones, illnesses, lifestyle changes or needs.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
In some cases, a parent’s parental rights to her children are terminated involuntarily. This occurs when the court determines that it's in her children’s best interests for the parent to no longer have parental rights regarding them. Involuntarily terminating a parent’s rights is a rare occurrence, as courts generally prioritize the relationship between a parent and child over the child’s relationships with all others. However, the court may take this action when it determines that contact with a parent somehow poses a threat to the child’s well-being, which could be due to abuse, the parent’s criminal activities or the parent’s substance addiction.
It is rare for a parent to have her parental rights reinstated after having them terminated, either involuntarily or voluntarily. This is why it's so rare for the court to involuntarily terminate parental rights. Generally, the court attempts to find a way to protect the child without severing this tie to her parent, such as requiring that the parent have supervised visits with the child or that the parent take parenting classes.