How to Voluntarily Relinquish Parental Rights in the State of North Dakota

By Beverly Bird

Updated January 14, 2020

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Voluntarily relinquishing parental rights is a precursor to giving up a child for adoption or into foster care. North Dakota Courts generally aren’t willing to terminate rights otherwise unless issues of abuse, neglect or endangerment are present. Under these circumstances, a third party could move to ask the court to terminate a parent’s rights.

Relinquishing or terminating parental rights means severing all legal ties, including the rights and responsibilities between a parent and a child.

Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights in North Dakota

According to the North Dakota Legislative Branch, a parent can relinquish their rights by signing a written statement to that effect. The statement must be signed in the presence of the agency who’s taking custody of the child or when the individual who is petitioning to adopt the child has had custody for at least two years. The court will accept the statement if the judge finds that the adoption is in the child’s best interests.

The parent who relinquishes their rights isn’t required to receive a summons or a copy of the adoption petition and has no legal right to object to the proposed adoption. The adoption can proceed without that parent’s consent.

The parent is entitled to legal counsel when giving up their rights, however, and the state will appoint an attorney for this purpose if the parent can’t afford one.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

Involuntary termination of parental rights requires the court to find there are “grounds” or a justifiable reason to do so.

Grounds can include abandonment of the child or an inability to provide and care for the child due to issues such as substance abuse or physical or mental incapacity. North Dakota statutes on parental rights are found in Chapter 14‒15 of the North Dakota Revised Uniform Adoption Act. Care is defined as the “subsistence, education, or other care or control necessary for the minor’s physical, mental, or emotional health or morals.” The court must find that this situation is not likely to change.

A North Dakota court can also terminate a parent’s rights if the judge finds that the parent is “unreasonably” withholding consent to an adoption “contrary to the best interests” of the child. North Dakota is one of 27 states that will terminate parental rights if the parent is convicted of a felony that will result in long-term incarceration. Rights can involuntarily be terminated to pave the way for adoption if the child has been in foster care for 450 or more of the last 660 nights.

The North Dakota Adoption Process

The North Dakota adoption process begins with filing a petition for adoption that, by law, must be served on:

  • The child’s biological parents, assuming the parent has not voluntarily relinquished their parental rights
  • The child’s legal guardian, if there is one
  • Anyone who has legal custody of the child, as well as the individual who will take custody of the child, assuming that person isn’t filing the petition  

A petition for involuntary termination of parental rights doesn’t have to be included with the adoption petition if:

  • The child is currently in the custody of a relative who’s been approved by the state;
  • A case plan is in place that clearly states why terminating those rights is in the child’s best interests; or
  • If 60 days have passed since the parent voluntarily placed the child in foster care and has consented to the adoption.

Stepparent adoptions are an exception to the usual rules in North Dakota. They can’t proceed without termination of the biological parent’s rights, either voluntary or involuntary.

A Special Provision for Native American Children

An additional requirement must be met for termination of a parent’s rights if the child is a Native American. Regardless of whether termination is voluntary or involuntary, a Notice of Impending Proceeding in State Court Involving Native Americans must be served upon the child’s tribal court according to the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act.