Consent to Adoption: Introduction

In the adoption context, "consent" means that a parent or legal guardian agrees to relinquish a child for adoption. States have various rules about what is required to give consent. Most states insist on a written document that is either notarized by a notary public, or signed in the presence of a judge or other designated official.

The purpose of the consent requirement is to protect everyone involved in the adoption process, by ensuring that there is no doubt or legal ambiguity about the choice to give up a child for adoption.

Consenting to an adoption means voluntarily terminating one's rights as parent or guardian.

Who Must Consent?

The birth mother and birth father hold the primary right to consent to the adoption. If they aren't married, the birth father may need to properly established paternity in order to be involved in an adoption decision. In many states, birth parents who are underage have the same right to consent as adults, though a few states require the parent of a minor parent to sign the consent.

Sometimes the role of giving consent can fall to others such as a guardian or a child welfare agency that has custody of the child. This can happen if neither birth parent is available or if their parental rights have been terminated through a legal proceeding, such as for abandoning or neglecting the child.

Waiting Period  

Many states impose a waiting period before a parent can consent to give up a child for adoption. This helps ensure that the birth parents have enough time to make an unhurried decision. The longest waiting period any state has is 15 days after the child's birth, and the shortest is 12 hours. The most common waiting period is 3 days.

Revocation of Consent

Sometimes birth parents have a change of heart after agreeing to put up a child for adoption. Most states allow a birth parent to revoke consent to an adoption in certain narrow circumstances. For instance, it is often possible to revoke consent if the decision to give up the child was made under coercion. In some states, birth parents are given a certain amount of time to withdraw consent, after which it becomes irrevocable. Generally, consent becomes irrevocable once the court issues a final adoption decree.

The Consent of the Child

Besides obtaining the parents' or legal guardians' consent, in some circumstances the child must agree to the adoption too. Many states have laws that say a child can veto an adoption, if he or she has reached a certain age. The age at which the child's consent is required varies from 10 years old to 14 years old, depending on the state. The rules are set forth in state adoption laws.

Related Resources:

-- Consent to Adoption: What Biological Parents Need to Know

-- Consent to Adoption (U.S. Government Publication)

Get Legal Help with Your Questions About Consent and Adoption

A variety of legal issues can arise in connection with giving or obtaining consent to an adoption. Don't go it alone; get the assistance of a family law attorney, who can help clarify the process and its requirements in your state.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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