Adoption is a legally recognized relationship between adoptive parents and the adoptee. It is designed to be a permanent placement to ensure stability for the adoptee and their family unit. While the process is typically straightforward, there can be unexpected difficulties that can lead to legal actions and complications during or after the process. Understanding each party’s rights can help you know what to expect at each stage.
Terminating Parental Rights
Birth parents have fairly broad rights regarding the care and rearing of their children as long as the children are safe and healthy. Their rights include the right to place their children for adoption. When birth parents consent to an adoption, they voluntarily terminate their parental rights. Both the mother and the father, when paternity is established, must consent in writing and in front of a judge or another court official. The consent must be voluntary and without coercion or manipulation.
If birth parents are deceased or have had their parental rights involuntarily terminated, consent for adoption can be issued by others, including:
The child’s close relatives
A person or agency with custody of the child
A court with jurisdiction over the child
Once the birth parents consent to the adoption, they typically cannot revoke that consent. This preserves the child’s right to grow up in a stable family environment. However, some states allow for limited conditions in which consent can be revoked. This normally must be done before the adoption is finalized and is most common in cases where coercion or fraud is alleged. The birth parents must revoke their consent within a specified time frame, and the state will only permit it if they determine it is in the best interest of the child.
The state may also agree to revoke consent if the birth and adoptive parents agree to revoke the adoption agreement.
Finalizing the Adoption
Although birth parents have significant rights up until the adoption is finalized and can change their minds at any moment before they sign the consent, their rights are significantly curtailed once their parental rights are formally terminated. Most states only allow a limited time and limited circumstances in which they can revoke their consent. After that period, birth parents no longer have parental rights.
Terminating or Nullifying the Adoption
Not all adoptions work out. In California, birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees have the option to terminate or nullify adoptions that are not in the best interest of the child. While birth parents’ rights are minimal in these cases, they can file a joint petition with the adoptive parents to vacate the adoption. To be successful in this venture, they will need to prove that the adoption is not in the best interest of the child.
Contact Agreements and “Open Adoptions”
Currently, many birth and adoptive parents are opting for “open adoptions,” which allow for varying degrees of contact after the adoption is finalized. These agreements should be carefully considered and include all aspects of potential contact, including:
Contact agreements can be complex, and both sets of parents must agree on them before entering into any final version. Furthermore, some aspects are not necessarily likely to be enforceable unless they were approved at the time the adoption was finalized and determined to be in the best interests of the child. Without a contact agreement in place, adoptive parents have the final say in how often or even if birth parents are involved in the child’s life.
If you're considering adoption, we can answer your questions and help you navigate the legalities and understand the process. Contact our offices today to learn more or schedule your consultation with our team.