A mother signing over parental rights means that she relinquishes her parental rights to the other parent or another person. Differently put, signing over parental rights terminates the parental rights over a child. Once a mother births a baby, they are as responsible as the father for the feeding, care, and financial support of that child.

This obligation remains until the child attains the age of majority or is married.

In this article, we look at the reasons why a mother can sign over her parental rights, as well as what’s involved in the process.

What Does It Mean To Sign Over Your Parental Rights?

Signing over parental rights removes the legal claim of a parent to their child. This means that such a parent won’t have a right to make any decisions pertaining to a child’s life, including education and medical care. Legally, this can also be viewed as the voluntary termination of parental rights.

A mother who signs over her parental rights is not entitled to visitation rights or custody of the child. This doesn’t mean that the mother can’t nurture a relationship with their child – they are only barred from legally forcing the other parent to permit them to see the child.

Voluntary termination of parental rights means that the child can be adopted with the permission of the mother. Another consequence of a mother signing over her parental rights is that her name is removed from the child’s birth certificate.

In most states, judges don’t allow the voluntary signing over of parental rights. Besides wanting to avoid their child support obligation, a mother may want to give up her parental rights to avoid dealing with the behavioral problems of a child. However, a mother will still have to pay child support to the father or until the child is adopted.

How To Sign Over Your Parental Rights

In most jurisdictions, you will have to file a petition for the termination of parental rights to start the process. The mother looking to sign over her parental rights has to fill out her child’s name, age.

She also has to provide the same information for the legal guardian or parents looking to adopt the child. If this information isn’t provided, the mother has to give a reason for it.

The mother also needs to give reasons why she wants to terminate her parental rights before signing the form. In most cases, the mother will need a good and valid reason for signing over her parental rights.

This process is often dubbed the “civil death penalty” as it is deemed a serious event hardly granted by judges. The commonest reason for voluntarily signing away parental rights is to allow for the adoption of a child, usually by the new spouse of the custodial parent.

In order for the wife of the custodial parent to adopt the child, the mother has to sign over her parental rights voluntarily. A judge may grant this process if it is for the good of the child.

However, a judge may not grant it if the mother cites irreconcilable differences with the father or is looking for a way to avoid paying child support. This is because neither situation is in the best interest of the child.

Once a mother files the petition to terminate her parental rights, the court schedules a hearing for the judge to make a decision. In most hearings, the judge will clearly explain the repercussions of voluntarily signing over parental rights.

In most jurisdictions, a mother who voluntarily terminates her parental rights relinquishes her visitation rights, tax cuts, and right to make decisions pertinent to the child’s life. Most courts hardly grant this request, as there are few valid reasons for relinquishing parental rights.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In some cases, another party may request that a mother’s parental rights be terminated. When addressing involuntary termination of parental rights, the laws in most states will require that a court:

  • Determine, by irrefutable evidence, that the mother is unfit
  • Establish whether ending the parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the child

Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

The reasons for involuntary termination of a mother’s parental rights are specific circumstances under which a child is deemed unsafe. The child can’t live with the mother in her home due to the risk of harm or her inability to meet the basic needs of the child. Each jurisdiction establishes its own statutory grounds, and the rules vary from state to state.

The commonest statutory grounds that can be cited when seeking to terminate parental rights include the following:

  • Neglect or severe abuse. The mother hasn’t properly cared for the needs of the child, including providing shelter, food, education, medical care, or any other need
  • Abandonment of the child. This is an indication that a mother wants to sign away their parental rights. Abandonment is when she hasn’t been in contact with her child and provided financial support for at least six months without a compelling reason
  • Neglect or abuse of other children. If a mother is guilty of abusing or neglecting any of her children, she might lose her parental rights
  • Long-standing mental illness or incapacity
  • Long-standing alcohol or drug addiction
  • Prior involuntary relinquishment of parental rights
  • Felony conviction. A parent who is convicted of a violence crime against another family member or their child is likely to lose their parental rights

Who Can File for Termination of Parental Rights?

Apart from either parent, state laws allow for various representatives and agencies to request the termination of the parental rights of a parent. While this is not a simple process, the following can file a case for termination of parental rights if they meet the legal requirements:

  • An individual with court-ordered visitation or access to the child
  • A foster parent of a child placed by The Department of Family and Protective Services and has been under their care for at least 12 months, which end not more than 90 days before the date for filing the termination case
  • A potential adoptive parent
  • The child’s grandparent, great-grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece, and:
    • Both parents are deceased
    • Both parents, managing conservator, or surviving parent agree
    • The present circumstances of a child will significantly harm their physical well-being or emotional development
  • An individual who isn’t the foster parent but has had actual care or control of the child for at least six months (time limits may differ among states) before filing the termination petition with the court
  • A person who has been designated the child’s managing conservator in an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights or has been given consent in writing to adopt the child
  • The child’s guardian or guardian of their estate
  • The authorized representative of the child (such as an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem)
  • A governmental entity
  • A licensed child-placing agency
  • The Department of Family and Protective Services

Exceptions for Initiating a Termination of Parental Rights Case

State laws allow for the proceedings of termination of parental rights to be initiated when grounds are met. However, many states provide for exceptions under some conditions.

Such circumstances include:

  • The child is under a relative’s care.
  • The state agency has a convincing reason to believe that signing custody rights over is not in the child’s best interests
  • The state agency is yet to provide the parent with the necessary services for safe reunification as required by the service plan

Reinstating Parental Rights

Terminating the parental rights of a mother doesn’t affect the rights of the other parent. In some cases, the rights of both parents may be terminated, and the State then assumes the child’s legal custody. What’s more, the State bears the responsibility of finalizing the child’s permanent placement through adoption or guardianship within a reasonable timeframe.

In some states, a parent can file a petition with the court requesting reinstatement of parental rights if a permanent placement is yet to be achieved. In other states, the rules specify that reinstatement is only available to older children whose permanent placement hasn’t been achieved.

In considering reinstatement of parental rights, the court has to determine whether the parent has substantially worked towards correcting the conditions that necessitated the termination of their parental rights. Further, the court considers whether the parent is now able and willing to provide their child with a safe home. Most importantly, the court must determine whether reinstatement is in the child’s best interests and whether both the parent and child agree to it.

Conclusion

Signing your rights away as a mother means that you no longer have the right to make decisions over a child’s life.

If you’re considering termination of parental rights, here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • Voluntary termination of parental rights doesn’t waive your obligation to pay child support
  • Courts rarely grant the decision to sign away parental rights unless there is a good reason
  • The most common reason for signing away parental rights is to allow the new spouse of the custodial parent to adopt a child
  • Besides voluntary relinquishment, a mother can lose parental rights if another party files a petition for termination of parental rights, and legal grounds are met

Voluntary termination of parental rights can only be granted by a court. It is rare, but when it happens, the parent loses their right to make decisions pertaining to their child’s life.

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