Lis and the Single Girl: Giving Up a Child for Adoption

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Single and fabulous? Well then this is the column for you!

Ever wish you had your own personal Carrie Bradshaw to answer your questions — not just about what to do if your boyfriend dumps you via text message — but serious issues that confront us? This special daily edition of “Lis on Law” will address topics that single women are faced with and that everybody wonders about — but no one has time to figure out.

Between work, working out, dating and maintaining a social life, it’s tough to find time to do much else. So, read up and prepare to be fully armed for brunch this weekend with your friends with some super conversation topics! Your pals will be amazed!

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I’m pregnant and thinking of giving up my child for adoption. How would I go about that?

The right to parent one’s own child is so fundamental that our Constitution ensures our child will not be taken away from us unless there is a compelling reason. Parental consent is generally required before a child can legally be adopted by a non-birth parent.

Who needs to consent to adoption? When the child is legitimate (a child from a legal marriage) consent from both parents is mandatory. When the child is illegitimate, however, rules get a little fuzzy. Parental rights used to be able to be terminated solely with maternal consent if the child was illegitimate. This, however, is no longer the case. Historically, unwed fathers had only limited rights when it came to their illegitimate children. Today, if the identity of the natural father of an illegitimate child is known, his consent is required.

And where the biological father has had an ongoing relationship with the child he will, as a matter of constitutional law, be required to consent before his parental rights can be terminated. When the identity of the father is not known though, an adoption can be finalized without the father’s consent.

So if you’re thinking of giving a child up for adoption you should discuss it with the father and get his consent.

Parental rights may also be terminated involuntarily. Upon a finding of neglect, parental unfitness or abandonment, parental rights may be terminated by the state and a child may be legally adopted, absent consent from either parent. Courts typically define these as:

Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment reported to child protective services. It is defined as a "type of maltreatment that refers to the failure to provide needed age-appropriate care," such as shelter, food, clothing, education, supervision, medical care and other basic necessities needed for development of physical, intellectual and emotional capacities. Physical neglect occurs when parents fails to supervise a child enough to provide a safe environment and fulfill their physical and emotional needs. Physical neglect can severely impact a child's development by causing failure to thrive, malnutrition, serious illnesses, or physical harm due to lack of supervision and a lifetime of low self-esteem. Educational neglect occurs when a child is not required by the parent to attend school. Educational neglect can lead to underachievement in acquiring necessary basic skills. Emotional neglect includes such actions as chronic or extreme spousal abuse in the child's presence, allowing a child to use drugs or alcohol, refusal or failure to provide needed psychological care, constant belittling and withholding of affection. This pattern of behavior can lead to poor self-image, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive behavior and even suicide. Severe neglect of infants can result in the infant failing to grow and thrive and may even lead to infant death. Medical neglect occurs when parents fail to provide appropriate health care for a child.

Parental Unfitness: There is really no hard and fast definition for this. Generally if a parent's lifestyle is found to be harmful to a child, a court may declare that parent unfit to have any contact — including supervised visitation — with her child. What constitutes unfitness depends on many issues, including the social, psychological and sexual behavior of the parent. Unfitness standards vary from state to state. When courts attempt to determine the unfitness of a parent, they usually concentrate on the effect the parent’s conduct has on the child rather than on the social appropriateness of the behavior. Courts examine the relationship between that parent and child at the present time as well as what they believe it is likely to be like in the future.

Abandonment: Child abandonment can be found upon a parent's failure to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with his or her child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may deem the child abandoned by that parent and order that person's parental rights may be legally terminated. Abandonment also describes situations in which a child is physically abandoned (being left on a doorstep, delivered to a hospital or put in a trash can).

Because of the sanctity our country endows upon the right to parent, there are many constitutional safeguards in place to ensure they’re not revoked absent good reason. Parents must be notified of a court proceeding to terminate such rights and must likewise have an opportunity to be heard. (Note: though this does not mean that if a parent is indigent that the state is required to appoint counsel to them. Cases are assessed individually and the state may appoint counsel but is not required to do so.)

Another safeguard in place due to the severity of revoking a fundamental right is that the standard of proof is higher in these cases. Rather than merely requiring a parent’s unfitness to reach the ordinary civil standard of proof — preponderance of the evidence, the United States Supreme Court requires the state to prove evidence for termination proceedings of parental right to meet a clear and convincing evidence standard. Some states even go beyond that, requiring grounds for termination of parental rights to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If you or someone you know has had their parental rights terminated unconstitutionally seek counsel immediately! If you weren’t notified properly or were not given an opportunity to be heard you may have a case!

So, Angelina and Madonna cannot adopt your child from you without at least one parent’s consent and usually both (absent abuse or abandonment). If you or someone you know believe you have had your parental rights terminated unconstitutionally seek legal counsel immediately. You should need no reminding to always keep the best interest of your child as your top priority!

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• Neglect

• What is child neglect?

• Abandonment

Family Law, 2nd edition; Harris, & Teitelbaum (Aspen)

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.