Giving up parental rights can be done through a voluntary surrender or an involuntary termination. Under a termination, you will have no right to visit the child, and another person could be free to adopt your child without your permission. With a surrender, you can ask the court to consider giving you some rights to visit the child. Since you will no longer be the child's legal father, you will no longer be responsible to pay child support. However, you cannot sign over your parental rights for the sole purpose of not having to pay child support.
Voluntary surrender might be appropriate in some circumstances. For example, your child might have a stepfather who has shown interest in adoption. If you feel this is best for your child, you can surrender your parental rights. If your child is in foster care and a family has expressed an interest in adoption, surrendering your rights could be a valid decision. You can also request that your surrender be conditional, meaning the court will let you surrender your rights but grant you visitation. No matter your circumstances, the judge will rule in the best interest of the child.
According to the Law Office of Cordell and Cordell, P.C., a court order that surrenders your parental rights is a final judgment and cannot be modified. Think carefully before taking this step.
An involuntary termination occurs when a court forces you to give up your parental rights and you disagree with the court. This can occur if a court deems you an unfit parent. You can be subject to involuntary termination if:
- You abandoned the child.
- You neglected the child.
- You abused the child.
To prove abandonment, the opposing party will likely need to provide witnesses and written documentation to show that you no longer participate in the child's life. For abuse and neglect cases, a social services agency is usually involved and can provide evidence of abuse. Each state has its own laws for removing children. In Minnesota, for example, you can lose your children if you fail to pay court-ordered child support for a specific period or fail to follow the steps the court demands for you to get your children back from foster care.
When a court terminates your parental rights, you will lose the children you have now and you stand to lose any future children. A court could say that if you're unfit to raise one child, you're unfit to raise any children. A social service organization could ask the court to permanently remove a child from your custody at birth.
According to the Self-Help Law Center, surrendering or terminating custody is a "complicated area of law." The site suggests you contact an attorney in matters of surrender or termination.
Child Support Arrears
If you owe back child support, you are said to be in arrears. Even if a court grants your request to surrender your parental rights, you will still responsible for any back child support, or arrears, that accrued before the surrender. State laws can vary, but this law may apply even if you didn't know you had a child until the child was older. For example, you might suddenly discover you have a 16-year-old son. Your son's mother sues you for back child support. Depending on your state -- Texas for example -- you might have to pay back at least four years' worth of support, even if you can prove you didn't know you had a child. If your son's mother can prove you knew for a certain number of years that you had a child, a court can order back child support for all those years. This obligation doesn't go away simply by surrendering your rights.
The Administration for Children and Families