The process of Terminating Parental Rights (TPR) was not explained to me prior to the birth of the child I relinquished for adoption. Actually, it wasn’t explained in detail after her birth either. I found out much later that, had I been informed of the laws in our state, things would have been much easier for all involved. And so, I cannot scream it loud enough: learn the laws of your state regarding Termination of Parental Rights.
I will share my own misunderstanding(s).
When I placed in the state of Pennsylvania (and it seems that, since then, statutes have changed), the law was that the TPR couldn’t be signed before 72 hours. Now neither the agency nor the adoptive parents’ attorney said, “That means this: you can’t sign at all before 72 hours but you can take as long as you want after that 72 hours to sign.” As it ended up happening, I was a day (or two) past the 72 hours and I thought that I was going to be “in trouble” with “the law” since the adoptive parents had my baby and I hadn’t yet signed the papers. I never once thought, at that point, that I could say, “Hey, I’d like to spend some more time thinking about this to make a more informed decision.” (To boot, the attorneys messed everything up and I had to re-sign three months later. Great fun!)
And so, let this be clear: the time limit provided by state statutes is a MINIMUM. Meaning? You cannot sign before that time. There is no maximum time limit when it comes to voluntary Termination of Parental Rights. Until you sign your name on that line, you also have complete and total right to see your child, parent your child, change your mind about the intended parents and so on. Furthermore, and this is where the knowledge of your state’s laws is absolutely necessary, some states have irrevocable consent and some offer a period of time in which you may change your mind and revoke consent. Knowing this is important. Agencies and attorneys are not always forthcoming with this information. I can’t stress how important it is for adoptive families and birth families to know about these time minimums and limits.
If you have recently placed your child for adoption and you’re not sure whether you should sign the TPR, if your signature is irrevocable or if this is what you really want to do, please seek your own legal representation. You can also search your state’s statutes by visiting this page, selecting your state and click the box next to “Consent to Adoption.”
For more on legal issues, read these posts.