I have discussed it before, but it’s worth repeating: Family Law has a strange mythology. One of those myths is the myth of terminating your parental rights (or “signing your rights away”). I don’t know where it comes from and—despite my best efforts—I haven’t figured out how to make it go away. This is a big body of knowledge that everyone seems to “know,” little of which is true or even close to true. Some of it’s TV. Some of it’s family. The rest?—I don’t really know where it comes from.
Somewhere along the way, everyone (or at least a lot of people who call me) decided that your parental rights and responsibilities are something to be given away, like a coat or a book. They are not. You do not give your parental rights away—they must be taken from you.
There are two ways that someone’s parental rights may be terminated:
- The child is adopted.
- DHS terminates someone’s parental rights through a Dependency/Neglect case.
In an adoption, one of the following things are happening:
a) a court is replacing two biological parents with two new biological parents. This is what you might call a “traditional” adoption.
b) A court is replacing two biological parents with one biological parent. This is a “single-parent adoption.”
c) A court is replacing one biological parent with a non-biological parent who’s married to one. This is a “stepparent adoption.”
In each of these scenarios, at least one person is going from parent to non-parent. From a legal perspective, it is as though the parent never existed—his or her parental rights have been terminated.
The other way that someone can lose his or her parental rights is through a DHS proceeding. This process normally takes around a year, at which point there is a final Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) hearing. This doesn’t happen by accident.
The point of all this is simple: If you are a parent, you stay a parent until a Court says so. You are still responsible for supporting the child until a court says’s you’re not, and any back-due child support sticks around even after your rights are terminated.