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Termination of Parental Rights

Most adoptions require the termination of the parents’ legal relationships with the child. Termination of a parent-child relationship can be voluntary or involuntary, but all cases require action by a court. It is not possible for a parent to relinquish their parental rights without court approval because both the parent and the child have rights in the relationship. A parent cannot be relieved from the responsibilities of parenthood without court approval. 

Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights. Even if a parent is willing to sign a consent to termination of their parental rights the court cannot terminate the parent-child relationship unless the child is in foster care or there is another approved adult ready to adopt the child. Other requirements for voluntary consent to termination of parental rights include:

  • The consent to termination of parental right must be in writing and be signed by the parent in front of a witness.
  • The document must be in a very specific form that includes detailed information about how and when the parent can change their mind and retain their parental rights.
  • The signed consent is not effective until it is approved by a court. Until then, the parent can change their mind and keep their parental rights.
  • A court cannot approve the parent’s consent until at least 48 hours after it was signed by the parent.
  • If the consent is signed before the child is born, then the court cannot approve the consent until the baby is at least 48 hours old.

The requirements for the consent form and its signing are strictly enforced. If not properly followed, the parent’s rights may not be legally terminated and the adoption may fail.

For these reasons, it is critical that adopting parents seek the assistance of an experienced adoption attorney even in cases of voluntary termination of parental rights. Attorney Joyce Schwensen has been in private law practice for over 34 years and has assisted many families with adoptions involving voluntarily terminations of parental rights. If you are planning to adopt a child and one or both parents are expected to consent to termination of their parental rights, Joyce Schwensen is available to assist you. Call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights. When a parent refuses to consent to termination of their parental rights, no adoption can occur unless the non-consenting parent is proven in court to be unfit. A mandatory requirement to prove that a parent is unfit is to give them notice of the court case (through service of process) so that they can appear in court and defend their parental rights. This is true in all cases in Washington for both mothers and fathers, and even for parents who have abandoned their child, been incarcerated, abused the child or the other parent, had substance abuse problems, or are not listed on the birth certificate. Anyone of these or a combination may indicate that the parent is unfit, but the parent has an absolute right to be notified of the court case to terminate their parental rights and to be allowed to defend their parental rights. 

In some circumstances, if a parent cannot be located for service of process, the court will allow the notice to be given through publication in a newspaper and mailing the notice to the parent’s last known address. The adopting parent must first show the court that they diligently attempted, without success, to locate the parent who is claimed to be unfit. The requirements for this type of notice are complicated and strictly enforced. If you are seeking to adopt a child with an absent parent that you do not know how to locate, attorney Joyce Schwensen can assist you in asking the court to allow publication and mailing of the notice to pursue the termination of parental rights. Call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

Once a parent has been served with notice of the case to terminate their parental rights involuntarily, either by personal service or by publication and mailing, the adopting parents must prove the unfitness of the parent whose rights are to be terminated. The requirements to prove parental unfitness when a parent will not voluntarily consent to termination of their parental rights include:

  • That the parent is unfit at the time the case goes to trial in court, not just that the parent has a history of being unfit; and
  • That the parent has failed to fulfill their parental responsibilities to the child under circumstances that show a substantial disregard for those responsibilities; and
  • That the termination of the parent-child relationship is in the child’s best interest. 

Involuntarily terminating a parent’s rights to a child is a very serious undertaking that can only be done through the court system and requires the assistance of a skilled adoption attorney. If you are considering an adoption in which either or both parents are expected to refuse to consent to termination of their parental rights, you can work with attorney Joyce Schwensen to assess your situation and help you move forward with the case. Call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment. 

Termination of Parental Rights in Different Types of Adoptions

Most, but not all adoptions in Washington require termination of one or both parents’ parental rights. Some examples of cases in which parental rights do not have to be terminated are international adoptions, and adoptions of children who have no living parents or whose parents’ rights have previously been terminated. 

In cases requiring termination of parental rights, the legal requirements and procedures can vary based on the type of adoption being pursued. 

Private Domestic Adoptions 

Private domestic adoption cases are adoptions of U.S. children who are not in the foster care system. In Washington State, private domestic adoption cases require that at least one of the parents voluntarily agrees to relinquish their parental rights. The prospective adoptive parents can then seek termination of the other parent’s parental rights. But without at least one parent’s voluntarily consent to the adoption the prospective adoptive parents will not have standing in court to seek termination of parental rights. In such cases, it is necessary to seek the assistance of a licensed Washington State adoption agency which will have standing to ask the court to terminate the rights of one or both parents without the consent of either of them.

Stepparent Adoptions

Stepparent adoptions are the most common situations in which a parent’s rights are terminated. Many times a parent will voluntarily relinquish their parental rights to allow the stepparent adoption to proceed. In some cases, the relinquishing parent and the child have little or no personal interaction with one another, and the relinquishing parent may feel that the stepparent adoption is in the child’s best interest. In other cases, the relinquishing parent may want to end their child support obligation. And many times parents who are initially defensive when asked to consider relinquishing their parental rights become open to doing so once they learn more about what it means for them and the child. If you have considered a stepparent adoption and would like information about seeking the agreement of the child’s other parent, Joyce Schwensen is available to guide and assist you. Call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

There are cases where a parent refuses to relinquish their parental rights to allow a stepparent adoption, even if they are absent from the child’s life or have obvious parenting deficiencies. In these cases, it may be possible to terminate their parental rights involuntarily. It is best to consider all your options and possible approaches to the situation with the assistance of an experienced adoption attorney. If you would like to work with Joyce Schwensen to explore the possibility of a stepparent adoption even without the cooperation of the child’s other parent, call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

Adoption of Foster Children

When the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) becomes involved with a family because of concerns about abuse or neglect of a child, the child may be taken out of the family home. Within 72 hours after taking the child from the home, the State must ask a court to determine that the child is a dependent of the State of Washington, unless the parent agrees to the child living with an approved relative for up to three months.

Once a child has been declared dependent, no private legal case can be brought by a prospective adoptive family. At that point, only DCYF has the authority to pursue termination of parental rights. In addition, DCYF has the ultimate right to decide who will be allowed to adopt the child.

DCYF is required to provide services to the child’s parents to help them remedy their parenting problems and keep their children. These services must be provided before the adoption of the child can be considered as an option. This can mean the process of adopting a foster child can be lengthy and uncertain. 

Despite the obstacles, there is a tremendous need for families to adopt children who are dependent on the State. Adoption of a foster child is a wonderful way for many people to experience the joys and rewards of parenting, whether for the first time or as experienced parents. If you are considering the adoption of a foster child, attorney Joyce Schwensen can assist you by offering resources, guidance, advice, and advocacy with DCYF. Once parental rights have been terminated, Joyce Schwensen can represent you in finalization of the adoption. For more information about adopting a foster child call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

Adoption of Relative Children

If a child in your family is placed with you by DCYF for three months or less with the parent’s consent, there may be a short window of time during which a private, voluntary open adoption can be pursued. But this must be started before the child is declared to be dependent on the State. If a parent’s rights to a child are involuntarily terminated by DCYF, no open adoption agreement is allowed to be made with the parent. If the parent is unlikely to be able to remedy their parenting problems but wants to maintain future contact with their child, a good option might be a voluntary relinquishment of the child to allow an open adoption, either by a relative or another family suitable to the parent. If you find yourself in this type of situation, you must act quickly before the option of seeking a private, voluntary open adoption becomes unavailable because the child is declared dependent. For help in this type of situation call (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.      

If you have been caring for your grandchild, niece, nephew, or other relative without any legal documentation, you should be aware that the child’s parent could demand return of the child at any time, regardless of how long the child has lived with you or how long the parent has been absent. To protect yourself and the child, you should consult with an attorney experienced in both adoption and non-parental custody cases. It may be possible to obtain a legal right to continue caring for the child either with or without the parent’s agreement. The choice between adoption and non-parental custody is complicated and different options are better for different families. If you are facing this situation, attorney Joyce Schwensen can assist you. She has practiced law for over 34 years and has helped many families who have been caring for a child without legal protections. Don’t delay in learning what legal options are available to you. Make an appointment with attorney Joyce Schwensen by calling (206) 367-1065 or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

Attorney for Termination of Parental Rights in Washington 

Terminating parental rights is a complicated process that should be done with the assistance of a skilled and experienced adoption attorney. Joyce Schwensen has worked with countless adoptive families in all types of situations, and she is available to guide you through the process and ensure all the necessary steps are taken.

The Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen assist clients in communities across Washington including Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and throughout Washington. Call the Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen today or submit your information in the online form to schedule an appointment.

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