Voluntary Relinquishment of Rights by the Parent

By Robin Elizabeth Margolis

Father isolated from mother and son

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If you are a birth or adoptive parent and considering giving up your parental rights to your child, you are not alone. Parents voluntarily relinquish their legal rights to their children in a wide variety of circumstances, including divorce, adoption, family legal guardianship and foster care.


Voluntary relinquishment of parental rights occurs when parents decide, of their own free will, that they would like to terminate their relationship with their children. Relinquishment means you cannot make decisions about your children and you cannot see or talk with them again until they are at least 18 years old. Your state may allow you to retain visitation rights with your children if you specifically request this in writing. Relinquishment may mean your children cannot inherit anything from you unless you specifically include them in your will. Relinquishment is usually permanent and rarely canceled by a court.

Parental Rights

Parental rights are legally defined as a parent's right to make major life decisions on behalf of their children, such as where they will attend school, what faith or traditions they will be taught and what doctors and dentists they will see. While a series of modern Supreme Court decisions have intervened in state lawsuits to define and protect parental rights, there is no specific language in the U.S. Constitution that addresses parental rights.

Child Relinquishment Conditions

Each state has its own laws and procedures for voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. You will need to consult your own state's laws and court procedures, as the conditions in each state for giving up your children in divorce, adoption, family guardianship, paternity claims and foster care legal proceedings vary and involve different legal forms, state agencies and state courts. In some situations, you file a petition for termination of parental rights with a state court, in which you explain to the court why you wish to give up your children. Court approval is always necessary to legally relinquish your children. If you informally drop off your child with an ex-spouse, relative, friend or potential adoptive parents without getting formal court approval, you can be charged with child abandonment.

Valid Relinquishment Procedures

A legally valid voluntary relinquishment of your children requires strict compliance with the legal forms and court proceedings that govern your particular situation. For example, a voluntary child relinquishment in Missouri might require you to sign local juvenile court consent forms, receive a custody order from that court, appear before the court several times and then obtain a court order severing your parental rights.

A court may deny your request to voluntarily relinquish your parental rights. One reason courts sometimes refuse such requests is when a court decides a divorcing parent is trying to evade legitimate child support obligations. Voluntary relinquishments of children are occasionally set aside by the courts. One situation that sometimes occurs in adoption proceedings is when state laws protecting biological parents' rights are not followed. A court may then invalidate the adoption and return the adopted baby to the birth parents.