When a parent adopts a child, a new parent-child relationship is formed. Before this can happen, however, the birth parent must give up their parental rights so all the duties, rights, and responsibilities that accompany the parent-child relationship are transferred to the adoptive parent. The adoption relationship severs all legal ties between the birth parents and the child. Although most cases involve a biological parent giving up their rights and consenting to the adoption, there are situations where consent isn't required.
Parental consent helps to act as a safeguard for the parties involved. It encourages meaningful and thoughtful decision-making for the birth parents, protects children from separation from their caregivers unless it's necessary, and reassures adoptive parents about the legality of the adoption process. However, there are situations where parental consent isn't needed to maintain the integrity of the adoption process.
For instance, an unmarried pregnant woman has agreed to place her child up for adoption. She doesn't know who the father of the child is and doesn't need to get his consent (in most cases) before the child can be adopted. If a parent is incarcerated for a term of life without parole, to give another example, the child is likely to be adopted without that parent's consent.
Because adoption law is governed by state law, rather than federal statutes, it's important to understand that the specific laws that apply will vary depending on jurisdictions. However, there are certain common guidelines among states regarding adoption without parental consent.
Adoption Without Parental Consent: Parent Identity Can't be Determined
If the identity of the parent can't be established, or if the known parent refuses to identity the unknown parent and the court is unable to find out who the parent is, that parent's consent to the adoption is waived.
Because a father who is married to the mother of the child is presumed to be the father of the child, a man who isn't married to the mother of the child must establish paternity, otherwise he isn't entitled to the same rights as a father and his consent isn't needed to enable adoption, unless he acts to establish paternity.
A putative father is a man who doesn't have a legal relationship with a child, but claims to be the legal father of the child. Every state has legal actions for these men to claim paternity or to acknowledge paternity. Some states have registries where men can declare their intention to claim paternity.
Adoption Without Parental Consent: Unfit Parents
Most states have fitness requirements for parents; if they don't fulfill certain requirements, they can be declared unfit parents. Specific reasons vary by state, but they generally include abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol addiction, abandonment, or incarceration.
An unfit parent determination itself is enough to waive consent in many states. Additionally, for parents who have been declared unfit by the court, they can have their parental rights terminated. If a parent's rights are terminated, there's no need for their consent because the termination of parental rights severs the parent-child relationship.
Step Parent Adoptions
A step parent adoption is a common type of adoption. Typically, the other parent's consent is needed. However, the consent isn't required if that birth parent's parental rights have been terminated because of neglect, abandonment, abuse, or unfitness.
Adoption Without Parental Consent: State-Specific Examples
In California, the parental consent of a father isn't required unless the man became a presumed father:
Under California law, a noncustodial parent's consent isn't necessary for adoption if the parent willfully fails to communicate with and to pay for the care, support, and education of the child (when they were able to do so) for a period of at least one year.
However, Washington D.C. only requires six months where the parent failed to support the child and Louisiana law only requires six months of noncommunication with the child.
Questions About Adoption Without Parental Consent? Get the Legal Help You Need
Adoption law is very complex and best handled by experienced professionals. If you want more information about adoption without parental consent, then talk to an adoption attorney located near you who can help you navigate the relevant laws for your specific situation.