John Roska: Giving up parental rights

John Roska: Giving up parental rights

Q: My children's father won't pay support or visit them. He says he'd sign papers to give up his parental rights. Is that possible? Does it just take his signature on some form? Do I need a lawyer?

A: One parent's surrender of their parental rights isn't enough. Someone else must take their place. You're out of luck unless somebody else will adopt your kids when their father's rights are terminated.

That's because the law wants all kids to have two parents. At the same time, being a parent is a basic right that the law strongly protects. Judges are therefore very careful about terminating a parent's rights and avoid it if it would leave a child with only one parent.

So it's not easy to terminate someone's parental rights. If all it took was one parent signing away their rights, deadbeats wanting to avoid child support would line up ready to sign.

Juvenile court is the one place where one parent can lose their rights, without someone else assuming those rights. But that takes serious abuse and neglect. And juvenile cases are filed by the state. You can't file one or have a lawyer file one for you.

You can file your own adoption case, if someone's willing to adopt with you. If the kids' father will sign a surrender of his parental rights, that adoption case will go much easier.

You could even file for adoption without the other parent's consent to the termination of their parental rights. But you'd then need to prove the other parent unfit. The Adoption Act has a long list of what makes a parent unfit.

If you're married, your current spouse must join in your petition to adopt. Stepparent adoptions are common.

If you're not married, it'll probably be harder for a nonspouse to become your kids' adoptive parent. Many judges would be reluctant to make someone an adoptive parent if that person weren't willing to marry the children's biological parent.

Because parental rights are so important and protected, you must follow the adoption law very carefully. You really need an experienced adoption lawyer. Doing it yourself risks not getting it done at all or having it unravel later on because it wasn't done just right.

In a successful stepparent adoption, the stepparent replaces the biological parent. Terminating that biological parent's rights means they're no longer a parent. They don't have to pay child support and don't have visitation rights. The kids can't inherit, either.

The adoptive stepparent steps into the biological parent's shoes. They're no longer a stepparent and don't just become some kind of "parent-lite." They're a full, legal parent. They should fully understand what they're getting into.

Upon divorce, adoptive parents can seek custody and be required to pay support. (Officially, custody is now "allocation of parental responsibilities.")

So one parent's willingness to sign away their parental rights doesn't mean much unless there's someone else ready to fill their shoes.

John Roska is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.

Sections (1):Living

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
rsp wrote on November 05, 2017 at 1:11 pm

If the custodial parent dies it will also limit options for the kids of who will be best to care for them. Just because the father is absent doesn't necessarily mean his whole family is uninterested, or that the kids will never want to know him or his family.

My cousins were adopted by their stepfather and are still angry at their father for abandoning them decades ago. It never resolved things for the kids.