On Monday, I wrote about how TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) works now. Today, we’re traveling to Robyn’s Adoption Land to learn how TPR works there.
Who Must Sign TPR?
All biological mothers must sign TPR. (That was easy.)
When it comes to biological fathers, it’s a little more complicated. I wrote about this previously.
In cases of rape, even if the biological father (aka “the rapist”) is known, the biological father has no rights. In cases of incest, the biological father has no rights. If the biological mother is a prostitute, and the biological father is, or is presumed to be, one of her clients, the biological father has no rights. If a biological father is in prison, and will be for an extended period of time, then his rights may be terminated by the court.
If the biological father is truly unknown, then reasonable measures must be taken to locate him. If he cannot be located during the pregnancy and within two weeks of the baby’s birth, the rights of all possible biological fathers will be terminated by the court.
If the biological father is known, and is not a prisoner, rapist, or guilty of incest, then he has rights. If he does not wish to parent (that is, if he agrees with the adoption plan), he must sign TPR. If he wishes to parent, but the biological mother does not wish to parent, he must prove that he can parent the child. This is to prevent situations in which a biological father has no interest in parenting, but doesn’t want to “give up” his “flesh and blood” or simply wants to use the child to control the child’s mother. It happens now, and it shouldn’t. (If anyone really wants to know what I think a biological father would have to do to prove he’s a fit parent, comment and I’ll make it a future post.)
If a biological mother is found to have lied about the biological father’s identity, she may be prosecuted for fraud. Mistakes and lies are two different things, and the courts can sort out which is which. However, there have been too many cases of biological mothers saying that the biological father is unknown, only to say later, “Well, it was actually This Guy.” That’s not cool.
When Can They Sign TPR?
Under all circumstances, the earliest a biological mother can sign TPR is 48 hours after the child’s birth.
Under most circumstances, the earliest a biological father can sign TPR is 48 hours after the child’s birth. I gave this a lot of thought. Some states currently allow biological fathers, but not biological mothers, to sign TPR before a child’s birth. I can see where that would be very convenient, but overall, I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do. There are certain circumstances under which a biological father could sign TPR before the child’s birth: if he was being deployed in the military, if he was being transferred to a job out of the country, or if he was abusive or otherwise detrimental to the health of the biological mother. Even so, TPR could not be submitted until at least 48 hours after the child’s birth.
Social workers and attorneys must clearly explain, orally and in writing, that, although 48 hours after the child’s birth is the earliest TPR can be signed, it is not the only time TPR can be signed. The new parents can take as long as they want to sign TPR. The TPR documents must be gone over as far in advance of signing as possible.
And now to make things slightly more complicated. Take, for example, my son. He was born at 1:17 a.m. It would be just plain stupid to expect that TPR could be signed at 1:17 a.m. two days later. In cases such as these, where the 48 hours ends after normal waking hours, then TPR can be signed at 9:00 a.m. the following morning. These are not business hours, but waking hours. TPR could be signed at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
Also, if a medical professional states that a new mother or father is incapable of making any life-altering decisions due to medications or surgery, then TPR must wait until the new parent is cleared. If the new mother or father disagrees with the medical professional, then a second opinion can be ordered. (I could see doctors who are against adoption using this as a way to block adoptions.)
The 48-hour minimum stems from the fact that most new mothers and babies are discharged within 48 hours of giving birth. It gives the new parents two solid days and nights to meet their baby and make the adoption decision – yes or no – with the baby present. It also means that the new parents would not be forced to take the child home or leave the child in cradle care if they couldn’t take the child home from the hospital.
Can Minors Sign TPR Without Parental Consent?
News flash: Teenagers have sex and get pregnant. There are some people who believe that teenagers should have to obtain their parents’ permission to sign TPR and place their children for adoption. I have to wonder, do these people also think that teenagers should have to obtain their parents’ permission to parent? All of this is another post.
Yes, minors can sign TPR without parental consent.
Where Can TPR Be Signed?
You may think this is a strange question. However, there are a number of people who don’t believe that TPR should be signed in a hospital room. They argue that TPR should be signed only in a courtroom. I disagree. Signing in a courtroom would place an undue hardship on many biological parents. Do you know where your county’s family court is? I can tell you that both Jackson’s and Cassie’s courts were as far from civilization as possible. The only way their birthmothers would have gotten there is if we or someone from the attorney’s office drove them. There’s no reason TPR must be signed in a courtroom. If the biological parents don’t want to sign in a hospital room, the hospital must provide a conference room or office for this purpose.
I think what people are arguing when they argue that TPR should take place in a courtroom is that TPR should take place in front of a judge. In Robyn’s Adoption Land, judges must review and accept the TPR documents. However, biological parents don’t have to appear in front of the judge.
How Long Is the Revocation Period?
In Robyn’s Adoption Land, after TPR is signed, biological parents have two weeks (14 days) to change their minds and revoke consent. The revocation period cannot be waived. Currently, in some states, biological parents can sign waivers that essentially make TPR irrevocable. That’s not cool either.
At the end of the 14 days, the TPR documents are submitted to a judge, and the judge must rule on them within 24 hours.
Many people argue for 30-day revocation periods, but I just think that’s too long. I really thought a lot about this. I wanted a time frame that was fair to biological parents, adoptive parents, and the children.
Birthing a baby is hard. (Duh!) It’s very emotional. In the absence of the newborn baby, biological parents have the chance to know what it’s like to have given birth but not have a child. Can they handle that? Are the people who said they’d be there to support them actually there? Do they really believe that this was the best decision? They get some time to really think their decision through.
Because we have unilateral adoption laws, there’s no need for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). So, if adoptive parents travel to another state for a child, they don’t have to stick around for the bureaucracy to work. But, they do have to stick around for the revocation period. Also, the longer the child is with them, the harder it will be on them – and the child – to part.
When it comes to the baby involved, I believe babies need permanence as soon as possible. Babies aren’t toasters or vacuums. You can’t take them back again and again. Bonding does need to happen, and that bonding should be with the people who will be the everyday parents.
Is Return Automatic?
Under most circumstances, yes, the prospective/new adoptive parents would have to return the child to the biological parents. However, there are some circumstances under which prospective/new adoptive parents would not have to immediately return the child:
- Child Protective Services is involved
- The child tested positive for drugs at birth (in which case, CPS might already be involved)
- The biological parents do not have a secure environment in which to parent the baby – that is, they are homeless with nowhere to go (now, this should never happen, because agencies should have been helping the expectant parents find permanent housing, but it might)
In these situations, the case goes to a judge who decides what’s in the best interest of the child.
A long time ago, I came across a blog post by Susie Book, a birthmother, with her ideas about TPR. It’s a short, interesting read.