TPR is an abbreviation for Termination of Parental Rights. Before an adoption can take place, the biological* parents’ rights must be terminated. In private domestic adoption, the biological mother usually – probably always – signs the TPR herself.
TPR for biological fathers can be a bit trickier, because each state treats them differently, and some states treat biological fathers differently than biological mothers. I’ve written a little bit about the rights of birth fathers before. There are laws regarding how and when a biological father must be notified. Some states have putative father registries (but that’s another post). Some states require that unknown fathers be searched for. It’s all a mess.
Let’s say the biological mother and father are known and are willing to sign TPR. Each state has its own laws as to the earliest that TPR can be signed. For example, in Alabama, either parent can sign TPR at anytime before or after the baby is born. In California, when TPR can be signed varies depending on what type of an adoption is happening (agency vs. independent). In Louisiana, if you’re using an agency, TPR can be signed 3 days after birth, but if you’re using an attorney, TPR can be signed 5 days after birth. In Wyoming, TPR can be signed anytime after birth.
Once TPR is signed, each state also has laws about whether or not TPR is irrevocable. Further, each state that allows TPR to be revoked has different laws about how long the birth parents have to revoke it. In Alabama, TPR can be revoked 5-14 days after birth. In California, it varies according to the type of adoption. In Louisiana, it’s irrevocable. In Wyoming, it’s irrevocable.
Rhode Island has the longest period between birth and earliest TPR: 15 days. It also has the longest revocation period: 180 days. Someone tried to tell me that New Hampshire’s revocation period is “until the adoption decree is entered.” Oklahoma has a revocation period of 6 months, but, according to Adoptive Families, it’s irrevocable.
Furthermore, each state has different laws about what happens when TPR is revoked. In some states, return is automatic. That is, the adoptive parents must return the baby to the biological parents. In some states, the biological parents have to prove duress or fraud. In some states, biological parents may have to prove that it is in the best interest of the child to return to them.
Not all states require biological parents to have their own legal representation. So, there are some states in which an attorney can just thrust a TPR form at a woman who has just given birth and say “sign this.” OK… maybe not to that extreme.
And remember, all that stuff I just wrote? That’s just if the biological parents are known and sign TPR.
If the biological father is unknown, each state has its own laws about finding him, when and how his rights can be terminated, and under what circumstances, if any, those rights can be returned to him. If a biological father won’t sign TPR, some states will terminate his rights anyway if he cannot be found, doesn’t support he biological mother during pregnancy, or doesn’t support the child after birth. On the other hand, some states essentially allow biological fathers to force a woman to parent. If a biological father won’t sign TPR, the state won’t terminate his rights, even if he has no interest in parenting and has not supported the biological mother during pregnancy.
As you can see, the way TPR is currently handled is a confusing hot mess.
You can bet TPR will be handled differently in Robyn’s Adoption Land…
What? You forgot about Robyn’s Adoption Land? I didn’t. February is going to be devoted to it. Get ready to read!
* I’m using the term “biological parent” because “birth parent” doesn’t actually apply until after TPR is signed.