Losing Parental Rights
Relinquishment refers to a parent giving up legal rights to their child voluntarily or as ordered by a court.
- Giving up Rights Voluntarily
Courts will not allow a parent to give up their rights unless there is a stepparent or other individual willing to step into the role of the parent and adopt the child. However, once the parental rights have been terminated and another person has adopted the child, the biological parent no longer has a child support obligation, and the adopting parent takes all the legal rights just as if the child had been his or her own biological child.
- Giving up Rights Involuntarily
Similarly, a stepparent can petition the court for the termination of biological parents’ rights and ask to be made an adoptive parent, over the objection of the biological parent. Again, there will usually need to be extreme circumstances before the court allows such a modification. However, if a parent has not paid child support in over a year, or has not had contact with the child in over a year, these will be grounds for which a stepparent can request to be made an adoptive parent. Courts will generally not allow such adoptions unless the adoptive parents have been married for at least a year. Thus, the parent who is not paying child support nor staying in touch with the child may find themselves in the unfortunate position of losing their parental rights.
- Social Services
When the Department of Social Services files a petition asking that the child be placed in foster care, these actions are frequently known as “Dependency and Neglect” actions. In order for the Department of Social Services to prevail on these actions, they must show that the child is being harmed in some manner, and the parents cannot be rehabilitated to become fit parents. The Department of Social Services will often try to work with the parents to remedy the situation, and resort to foster placement only when all else fails.