Over the years of working in family law, we get asked a lot of different questions. Interestingly, one of the questions we hear every now and again is whether or not a parent can simply ‘sign off’ on their parental rights to their child. There are people who have, in an effort to avoid paying child support or having the other parent pressure them into a visitation schedule, sought to give up rights to their child. The question however, is whether or not this is even possible.
The truth is that Michigan courts are very reluctant to permanently sever the connection between a child and a parent, unless another adult will be assuming the mantle of responsibility in their place. As a result, there are very few occasions when “giving up” parental rights is legally possible.
Parental Rights and Duties
Parents have constitutionally protected rights to care for and have custody of their children. As long as the children are adequately cared for and safe, the state has little need to be involved. In addition, parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children or pay child support, however there are other legal benefits that children are entitled to as well.
Children, both natural and adopted, also have other rights in the U.S. For example, social security death benefits, military benefits, inheritance rights, and legal claims for wrongful death of parents in certain situations. Children also have legal benefits from a parent, even if that parent fails to pay child support, or is a parent in name only.
How Are Rights To a Child Given Up?
Some parents believe that choosing not to participate in their child’s life is the same as giving up rights to that child. That simply isn’t true. Choosing not to pursue visitation with your child is quite different from surrendering your legal rights as a parent. There are, however, certain situations where a parent can legally give up their parental rights.
Once example of this would be Michigan’s Safe Delivery Law, which allows a parent to legally surrender an unharmed newborn who is no older than 72 hours to the correct authorities. In doing so, the parent also surrenders any legal rights they have to the child. This ensures that unwanted infants are placed with loving families, and that mothers who don’t want their newborns can hand them over safely without risking the baby’s life or abuse and neglect charges.
Another example would be when a parent with custody remarries and the new step-parent wants to legally adopts the child. In this case, the parent without custody is able to sign off on their parental rights with the court, as their is a new parent stepping into the role in their place. Obviously, if only one parent consents to the adoption it wouldn’t be sanctioned by the court.
Finally, when a parent cannot or will not parent a child properly or safely, Child Protective Services steps in and removes the child from the custody of their parent or parents. If the abuse or neglect was considered severe enough, CPS will seek to terminate that parent’s rights to their child through a petition made to the court. If the court grants the termination, the child will be cleared for adoption.
If you have any questions about child custody or about parental rights in Michigan, our highly skilled family law attorneys are here to help. Please call us at 517 866 1000 to discuss your case. We have decades of experience handling all manner of family law issues, from custody and alimony to personal protection orders and paternity cases. We are here to help you.