How Does Termination of Parental Rights Work in California?

Whatever kind of California adoption you are completing, there are a few common steps shared by all the processes. One of the most important is the legal step of terminating parental rights.

But, what exactly does the termination of parental rights entail? Can birth parents stop an adoption from happening? How do you make sure your child is legally a part of your family?

These are all normal questions for prospective adoptive parents to ask. A degree of uncertainty is always present when it comes to terminating parental rights in California, but our agency is here to help. When you work with FCCA, you can be assured that all the necessities of this legal requirement are handled efficiently and appropriately. We are here to help you add a child to your family, and we will support you in that process every step of the way.

For more details about what legal services FCCA will complete, and which ones must be provided by outside legal counsel, you can always contact our agency. In the meantime, learn more about this critical step in the legal adoption process below.

Why is Terminating Parental Rights Necessary?

In order for prospective adoptive parents to legally become the parents to their adopted child, the parental rights of that child’ birth parents must first be terminated. To say it another way, before adoptive parents can be granted parental rights, the birth parents’ right must first be terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

In most domestic infant adoption cases, birth parents or legal parents understand the importance of terminating their parental rights and giving their child the best future possible. In these situations, birth parents complete a voluntary termination of parental rights to advance the best interest of their children.

However, not all birth parents can be located, and not all will agree to the child’s adoption. In these situations, involuntary termination of parental rights may be necessary.

Both of these paths are discussed in more detail below.

How Does Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights Work?

While every adoption situation is different, the laws regarding who must give consent to an adoption and how it is performed are usually very similar. These are described in California’s adoption laws, which FCCA is very familiar with.

Voluntary termination of parental rights is most often associated with private domestic infant adoption. In this situation, a mother places her baby for adoption with a family she has chosen herself. By voluntarily terminating her parental rights, she gives her child a life she may not be able to provide.

In California, a birth mother can only give consent for her child’s adoption after she has been discharged from the hospital. If she is making an agency adoption plan, she usually has approximately 10 business days to change her mind, unless she signs a Waiver of the Right to Revoke, in which case she only has one business day. If she is making an independent adoption plan, she will have 30 days to revoke her consent to the adoption (unless she signs a Waiver of the Right to Revoke, in which case it will be one business day). Therefore, adoption professionals work closely with her before terminating her parental rights to ensure adoption is the best choice for her.

Here’s how it usually goes: A birth mother consults with her lawyer before going into labor. Her lawyer will describe in detail the consent and termination process to ensure she understands her rights and what her decision means for herself and her child. Her assigned FCCA social worker (not the same social worker as the one working with the family) must also advise her of her legal rights, and review all the required forms with her, at least one day before she signs. After she has given birth and been discharged, and when she is ready, she will sign the documents to place her child for adoption. The exact documents, and number of witnesses, will vary depending on whether this is an agency or independent adoption. The signed and witnessed forms will be submitted to the Department of Social Services, which will then issue a form stating that everything was done correctly to terminate her parental rights in California.

Identified, supportive birth fathers can also sign a Waiver of the Right to Notice, or in some cases, a Denial of Paternity, before or after the baby is born. Any fathers who cannot be found or do not respond to notification of the adoption process may have their rights involuntarily terminated by the court, 30 days after the birth of the child or the service of the legal notice, whichever is later. Fathers who are unsupportive of the adoption process must take very specific and timely steps to protect their rights; unless they meet those stringent requirements, or unless they are married to the mother, their consent may not be required in the process.

If a father files legal documents to contest the adoption, then his rights will be addressed in the section below regarding involuntary termination of parental rights.

In any case, if you are adopting a child from a prospective birth mother through FCCA, you can rest assured that our agency will follow all legal requirements to ensure that proper termination of parental rights occurs, to the extent possible in that situation.

What About Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?

While voluntary termination of parental rights is commonly associated with private domestic infant adoption, involuntary termination of parental rights is often associated with foster care adoption. In foster care adoption, birth parents are given several opportunities to complete reunification plans. If they are unable to do so, the court terminates their parental rights once an appropriate home has been found for their child in foster care.

When you choose to adopt a child from the foster care system, their parents’ rights will still be intact when they are placed into your home. Only after they have failed reunification services, and only after the child is doing well in your home, will their rights be terminated so as to allow you to finalize the adoption and legally add your child to your family. The county that placed the child into your home will take the lead in terminating parental right. Very occasionally, a family may choose to hire outside legal counsel if there is a dispute over which home is best for the child.

As mentioned above, involuntary termination of parental rights can also occur in private domestic infant adoption. Most often, this legal process is used when birth fathers do not petition for their parental rights, or they fail to support a prospective birth mother and her child very quickly after learning about the pregnancy. In addition, if a father has committed a major crime, or has legally abandoned the child, his rights can be involuntarily terminated.


Whether your adoption process requires involuntary or voluntary termination of parental rights in California, when you work with FCCA, our legal staff will oversee the completion of the legal steps necessary to free the child for adoption. This is one of the last steps before a child is officially added to your family, and we are honored to help you reach your parenthood goals.

For more information on this legal process and how it works with each of our adoption programs, please contact our agency or attend one of our free information sessions.

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