As family law attorneys that have represented thousands of clients over the decades, we get asked a lot of difficult questions. Occasionally, we are asked whether or not a parent can “sign off” on their parental rights to their child. This is often due to a parent wanting to avoid child support payments or parent visitation issues. We see this most with parents that are way behind in child support payments or that are not seeing their children for parenting time.
Michigan courts are reluctant to permanently sever the connection between a parent and a child. However, the court is more accepting of these decisions if there is another parent to care for the child. It’s only when this condition is met that courts entertain the possibility of permitting a parent to “sign off their parental rights” or terminate them.
Parental Rights and Duties In Michigan
Parents have constitutionally protected rights to care for and have a relationship with 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. This is exemplified in the legal requirement to pay child support. However, there are other legal benefits that children are entitled to as well.
Children, both natural and adopted, also have derivative rights to the following:
- Social Security
- Military Benefits
- Inheritance Rights
- Legal Claims for Wrongful Death
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. This is not true. Choosing not to pursue visitation with your child is different from surrendering your legal rights as a parent. There are, however, certain situations where a parent can legally give up, or sign off their parental rights.
One example is 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 surrenders any legal rights they have to the child. This ensures that unwanted infants are placed with loving families, and mothers who don’t want their newborns can hand them over safely. The surrendering parent is also protected from abuse and neglect charges.
Another example would be when a parent with custody remarries and the new stepparent wants to legally adopt the child. In this case, the parent without custody is able to sign off on their parental rights with the court, and a new parent accepts that responsibility. Obviously, if only one parent consents to the adoption, it wouldn’t be permitted by the court.
CPS can take your children away from you!
Finally, when a parent cannot or will not parent a child properly or safely, Children’s Protective Services (CPS) can step in and remove the child from the custody of their parent(s). If the abuse or neglect is considered severe enough, CPS will seek to terminate that parent’s rights to their child through a petition made to the family court. If the court grants the termination, the child will be cleared for adoption or placement in foster care.
If you have any questions about child custody or about parental rights in Michigan, our highly skilled family law attorneys are here to help. Call us at 1 (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.