Abandonment Leading to Termination of Parental Rights
When you have a child, you can establish parentage on the basis of a legal presumption, an acknowledgment of parentage, or by giving birth. However, there are certain circumstances in which parental rights can be taken away. One way is through abuse and neglect proceedings. Another way that parental rights can be terminated is through abandonment. “Abandonment” has a specific legal definition, and it must be proven in court for parental rights to be terminated.
Why Prove Abandonment
Generally, no more than two people may be the legal parents of any child, so asserting abandonment may be the only way for stepparents to adopt or for birth mothers to place their children for adoption without explicit consent from the father.
When Does Abandonment Happen?
There are specific situations in which a parent or potential adoptive parent may want to prove abandonment in court. Once abandonment has been proven, the parental rights of the parent who abandoned the child can be terminated. There are a few situations in which this is likely to come up.
A common circumstance in which one biological parent may want to prove that the other biological parent has abandoned the child is when they are seeking a stepparent adoption. In order for a stepparent to adopt a child, both biological parents need to consent to the adoption. However, if one of the biological parents cannot be located, or if they can be located but refuse to consent to the stepparent adoption, the biological parent who has custody may move for termination of rights based on abandonment. The biological parent who is looking to terminate rights will need to prove the alleged abandonment in court.
Another situation in which abandonment may be relevant is when the biological mother wants to place the child for adoption, and all that is needed to complete the adoption is the consent of the biological father. Typically, these are scenarios in which the biological father is uninvolved in the child’s life, and he may even be difficult or impossible to locate. State laws governing abandonment give the court a way to allow the adoption proceeding to go forward while complying with notice and consent requirements.
What Qualifies as Abandonment?
State laws differ about what is needed for a parent to be deemed to have abandoned a child. Generally, there needs to be a period of time during which the parent does not have any contact with the child and does not pay child support. In most states, the period of time is one year, but this varies. Some states include a provision that the time period for abandonment begins once the biological father learns of the existence of the child. A skilled adoption attorney in your state can help you understand the state-specific laws that govern your case.
Proving or Defending Abandonment
When evaluating whether a child has been abandoned, a court will likely balance a parent’s right to parent their child with the child’s best interests.
The burden is on the party moving for termination to prove that abandonment has taken place. Typically, this will only come up when there is another party who is looking to take on the parental rights that the parent has allegedly given up due to their abandonment. As with all of the other elements of abandonment, specific defenses will vary by state. For example, in a state that measures the period of abandonment from when the father learns of the child, the father may defend his parental rights by showing that he did not know of the child. Parents who want to keep their rights intact may also provide evidence showing financial support of the child or mother as well as contact and attempts to form a relationship with the child. A court may also take into account other circumstances that the statute does not contemplate. A knowledgeable adoption attorney can help craft an appropriate defense or conversely help prove that abandonment has occurred so that the child can be adopted by another parent.