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Giving Up Parental Rights Can Be Complicated

(Submitted to by David A. Grooters)

As an attorney, I have received several calls from persons who want to “give up their rights” or have the parental rights of their ex-spouse/significant other “terminated” legally. Most people assume that all they have to do is sign a form and it’s done. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Chapter 600A of the Iowa Code governs the termination of parental rights (“TPR”). Most TPR cases involve one of two factual scenarios: the noncustodial parent (“NCP”) wants to give up his or her parental rights voluntarily, or the NCP will not agree to the TPR and/or cannot be found. This article deals with the parents who voluntarily wish to terminate their rights. The issue of involuntary TPR will be discussed in a subsequent article.

Iowa Code section 600A.8(1) provides that a parent may voluntarily execute a Release of Custody in order to terminate his or her parental rights. While true, this only provides the “grounds” for the TPR ñ the final decision rests with the Judge. My experience with the courts in this judicial district has been that the Court will not terminate a NCP’s parental rights unless there is another parent ready to immediately step into the shoes of the parent being terminated.

Let’s look at an example. Assume that Joe and Sally were previously in a relationship and a child, Mya, was born to them 4 years ago. Joe has had minimal contact with Mya and is delinquent in his payment of child support. Sally is sick of dealing with Joe and suggests that Joe “give up his rights” so that Joe is out of Sally’s life for good. Joe is willing to do this given his lack of a relationship with Mya and also based on his child support issues (note that termination of parental rights results in the terminated parent’s child support obligation ending for future child support payments).

As noted above, my experience has been that the Court will not approve this type of termination of parental rights. The rationale is that it is better to have two people available to support Mya instead of just one. The Court might view the matter differently if Mya’s conception was a result of a sexual assault and/or if there was domestic abuse during Joe and Sally’s relationship. Of course, these elements would have to be proven.

In the above example, instead of Sally just being sick of Joe, if Sally has since married Steve who adores Mya and seeks to adopt Mya, the situation would likely be viewed differently. In this case, the Court would likely find that Mya would have two parents with Steve’s adoption of Mya and therefore allow Joe to voluntarily terminate his parental rights.

Clearly the issue of termination of parental right is highly fact specific. Getting a legal opinion prior to proceeding with any action in this area is always advisable.

David A. Grooters is a Mason City attorney practicing in areas including adoption law with the law firm of Pappajohn, Shriver, Eide & Nielsen P.C. He can be reached at his office at 103 East State Street, Suite 800, Mason City, Iowa, via phone at (641) 423-4264, (641) 423-3145 (fax), or
The firm’s website is:||

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