Family Law

Rights of Birth Parents and Grandparents After Adoption

By Melissa Heinig, Attorney
Learn about a biological parent's rights after an adoption.

Adoption, like childbirth, is a life-changing event in your life. If you’re considering adoption, whether you’re the biological parent or the prospective adoptive parent, you’re probably wondering what rights you and your family have once you finalize the adoption. This article will help you understand your rights as a birth parent, adoptive parent, and grandparent.

The Court Will Terminate Your Rights

If you’re a birth parent and you're considering placing your child for adoption, it’s critical to understand that the first step in the legal process is for the court to terminate your parental rights, with, or in some cases, without your permission. The law favors biological parents in most situations, so even in circumstances where there is an alleged history of abuse and neglect, a judge will only terminate your rights if the court proves that your child’s health, safety, and welfare are at risk. Before the court finalizes an involuntary termination, the state will appoint you an attorney who specializes in abuse and neglect defense, and you’ll have the opportunity to defend yourself (if you choose) to the judge.

Conversely, if you choose adoption for your child, for any reason, you can voluntarily terminate your parental rights through the court process. It’s common for a parent to think “giving up parental rights” is a simple process. On the contrary, the court will not accept voluntary relinquishment of your parental rights until you legally consent to the adoption (unlike involuntary termination, where you can lose your rights before an adoption.) Courts are generally satisfied with your consent if both biological parents agree to relinquish all legal rights and duties to a child to allow an adoption to take place.

In most voluntary adoption cases, the biological parents have already chosen a qualified person or couple to adopt their child through an adoption agency. Once the court accepts your voluntary termination, the judge will approve the adoption application from the new parents.

Can I Revoke My Consent?

We’ve all seen the television movies where a biological parent agrees to adoption only to revoke consent later and rip the child out of the adoptive parents’ arms. To some extent, yes, an adoptive parent is taking a chance when they agree to adopt a stranger’s child because until the biological parents consent to relinquish their rights, either parent can change their mind about the adoption (unless the court involuntarily terminates the parent’s rights.) However, once the parents give consent to the adoption, there’s no turning back, and the adoption can continue.

Biological parents may revoke consent to the adoption if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • you gave your consent due to fraud or coercion
  • your state dictates a period in which you may revoke your consent, and your revocation comes within that time
  • the state investigates and determines that revocation is in the child’s best interest, or
  • the birth parents and adoptive parents agree to the revocation.

Once the Adoption Is Final, Your Rights Will Change

After the court finalizes the child's adoption, the birth parents' rights and responsibilities over the child will end. This means that as a birth parent, you don’t have an obligation to provide for the child, but you also generally lose the right to physical custody of your child and to make legal decisions for your child. The adoptive parents will have a court order that grants them the same rights and responsibilities as if they birthed the child themselves.

Although adoption extinguishes a birth parent’s legal rights, that doesn’t mean you can never see your child again. Many parents are participating in open adoptions, which is where the biological and adoptive parents create a written agreement that allows visitation and regular updates on the child. Not all states will enforce these contracts, so it’s critical that you speak with an adoption attorney before you sign away your rights or agree to the adoption. Without an agreement in place, the adoptive parents have complete control over whether the biological parents may visit with or receive information on the child.

My Child Chose To Place My Grandchild for Adoption, Do I Still Have Rights?

No. Most states employ birth parents with complete control over how to raise their children, including whether to place their children for adoption. Grandparents generally do not have a right to contest an adoption or seek visitation rights, even in situations where the court involuntarily terminates the biological parent’s rights.

In some cases, grandparents may be able to seek visitation rights if the adoption is a stepparent adoption and one of the biological parents is still in the picture. However, it’s important to understand that grandparents have limited rights in most states. If you would like more information, talk to a local family law attorney.

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