When is a natural parent ‘unfit’, so as to allow adoption without his/her consent?

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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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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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In all states in the U.S., the consent of both natural parents is required for an adoption to take place, unless the parent is considered an “unfit parent” by the court. In that case, an adoption can go forward even without the consent of that parent. The rules for an unfit parent vary depending on the state, as each state has its own specific laws. However, in very general terms there are a few specific things that will normally render a parent “unfit.”

Unfit Parents and Adoption

For the purposes of determining when a parent has abdicated his or her parental rights, and thus no longer needs to consent to adoption, the following things can be considered to make a parent unfit: 

  • Abandonment: typically considered to have taken place when the parent has willfully not communicated with and/or financially supported the child for at least a year. This can also apply if the parent has gone missing and all reasonable attempts to locate him or her have been unsuccessful for a similar length of time.
  • Unfit treatment: if the other parent or another interested party can prove that a parent is unfit they may terminate that parent’s rights.
  • Biological connection: should a DNA test prove that a father is not actually biologically related to the child, his parental rights can be terminated.

It is important to note that exhibiting these behaviors does not automatically terminate parental rights. In many cases, a child with an unfit parent will first be put into the foster care system so the parent can be given the chance to resolve his issues and reclaim his parental rights. In other cases, a parent may choose to willingly give up his or her parental rights.

Getting Help

If you are hoping to adopt a child and wish to prove his or her parents are unfit because they will not consent to the adoption, you will need a lawyer on your side to help make a convincing argument to the court.

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