How to Give Up Parental Rights and Child Custody

By Kimberly Turtenwald

Updated November 15, 2017

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Courts generally prefer to keep both parents as a part of their child's life as long as they don't pose a risk to the child's safety. In some cases, however, one or both parents may not wish to be part of the child's life any longer. In these cases, the desires of the parents and their reasoning behind those desires must be taken into consideration to determine what is in the best interest of the child. A parent may petition the court to give up his or her parental rights and any custody of the child.

Do the Paperwork

In most cases of voluntary parental termination, the parent wishes to give up his or her child for adoption. In these scenarios, a parent must legally consent to adoption – and, in some situations, the child must consent to his or her adoption, as well.

The adoption consent process goes through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the requirements for consent vary depending on the situation. The parent must also establish the timelines for adoption consent and the guidelines for revoking consent of adoptions.

Learn Your State's Laws

For those seeking to terminate parental rights, the relevant laws vary from state to state. Some states may require that the parent requesting to terminate their rights and the child involved attend counseling sessions to make sure the rights termination would be in the best interest of the child. In adoption cases, some states, such as Alabama, require that the presumed father must consent to the adoption, regardless of whether or not he has legally established paternity.

Seek legal counsel to familiarize yourself with your state's laws before going further in the adoption or rights termination process.

Exhibit Good Cause

In most situations, the parent wishing to terminate their rights must exhibit good cause for the request. Some states make the process easier for parents of infants under the age of 1, and legal definitions for "good cause" vary from state to state. The following typically serve as good cause for terminating parent rights:

  • Stepparent adoption
  • Severe or chronic physical abuse of the child
  • Any sexual abuse of the child
  • Extreme parental disinterest
  • Failure t support or maintain contact with the child
  • Failure to provide education
  • The child was conceived as a result of rape or incest
  • The preference of the child

The list of acceptable reasons for parental termination goes on, but does not include an inability or desire not to pay child support.

Leave it to the Court

Attend the hearing that is scheduled in front of the judge. The judge will ask questions, assess the situation and make a decision on whether to grant a termination of rights. In some cases, a full termination may not be granted. Instead, visitation may be terminated, but the financial responsibility remains.


Seek counseling for yourself, even if it isn't required, to ensure you are making the right choice. Once your rights are terminated, you cannot easily reverse it, if at all.


Some states do not allow for termination of parental rights unless there is someone who is stepping in to adopt. These states feel that a child needs two parents who are legally and financially responsible.