Before you can adopt a child, termination of the biological parent’s parental rights must take place. This means that the birth parents no longer have rights to the child that the law would otherwise confer on them automatically.
In most adoption cases, biological parents make the decision to put their children up for adoption and voluntarily terminate their parental rights. However, if either or both of the biological parents of a child you wish to adopt refuse to voluntarily terminate parental rights, it may be possible for the court to do so involuntarily.
When does involuntary termination of parental rights become an issue?
If you are adopting a child previously unknown to you, the issue of involuntary termination of parental rights rarely becomes an issue. It is more likely to arise if you are trying to adopt the children of your spouse from a previous relationship as a stepparent. In these cases, the other biological parent may not be willing to relinquish his or her parental rights voluntarily.
What are grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights?
If you can demonstrate to the court that the child’s biological parent(s) are unfit and that it would be in the child’s interests to terminate the relationship, the court may order the involuntary termination. Each state imposes its own statutory grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, grounds such as abandonment, neglect or abuse are pretty consistent across most jurisdictions. However, there are also some variations by state. For example, North Carolina specifically includes provisions for the termination of rights to an abandoned infant.
North Carolina also allows for the reinstatement of parental rights under certain circumstances, such as when there has been no permanent placement within three years. However, such exceptions are unlikely to apply to your stepparent adoption case.