What happens in the case of a missing parent or an abandonment?

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

Adoption laws differ, sometimes greatly, by state, but in general an adoption case involving a missing parent or abandonment is a matter of determining to the court’s satisfaction that abandonment has, in fact, taken place. All reasonable efforts must be made to locate a missing parent, and if the parent is found or his or her location is known, reasonable efforts must be made to prove that he or she has chosen to abandon the child before any adoption proceedings can go forward.

Termination of Parental Rights Based on Abandonment 

The key issue in the case of an abandoned child will be termination of parental rights. In a typical adoption situation, the consent of the biological parent or parents must be obtained in order for the adoption to take place. However, if the biological parent is missing and/or has abandoned the child, obtaining his or her consent for an adoption may not be possible. In this case, most state laws will have set benchmarks that indicate when a parent is considered to have willfully terminated his or her parental rights. For example, many states say that termination of rights has taken place when the parent has willfully failed to support the child for at least one year. After that time, the child may be adopted without necessarily requiring the consent of a biological parent. 

The term “abandonment” also varies somewhat according to the state or situation, but in most cases it refers to a parent who has failed to communicate with, or financially support the child for at least a year.

In these cases, legal steps must be taken to officially file on record the fact that the child has been abandoned. After that time, an adoption may go forward without the consent of the parent.

Getting Help

Anyone faced with this type of situation is advised to seek the counsel of a skilled lawyer. State laws can be fairly complex and legal advice is essential to ensure any actions taken fall within proper guidelines, both for the peace of mind of the adoptive parents and the well-being of the child. 

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

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