One of the most frequently asked questions received from parents relates to whether a parent can sign over parental rights to a child that they, for one reason or another, have no intention of assuming parental responsibility for.

And while there is a widespread belief that a parent’s desire to avoid parenthood is that simple-to just sign their rights over, the reality is that It’s Not that’s simple!

But why not? Why can’t a parent sign over parental rights if they don’t want to be a parent? Well, there are several reasons:

1)The court’s priority is to preserve the best interest of the child as much as possible.

Essentially, the courts don’t want to leave a child fatherless (or motherless for that matter) on the impulse of one parent deciding that they no longer desire to be a parent.  Thus, in order for a parent to avoid parental responsibility, special circumstances must be in place and certain procedures must be followed in order to protect the interests of the child.

In many states, the most practical way for a parent to sign over parental rights is through adoption.  Adoption is available for both parents, or one(step-parent adoption) and allows the best of both worlds for the parent and the child; when a child is legally adopted, the parental ties with the biological parent(s) are severed,  yet, the child is not left parentless because the adopting parents are stepping in.

2)When a child is born, both parents have a legal duty to support that child until the child is 18 years old.

If one parent is allowed to simply “sign over” his or her rights to the child, what happens if the other parent becomes unable to financially provide for that child alone?  That parent will then seek assistance from the government.  This presents a problem because in typical cases if one parent is provided with financial assistance from the government, the government will then recoup the costs by seeking reimbursement in the form of child support from the other parent.  If that parent has signed over his rights, that leaves no chance for reimbursement to the county, which then leads to budget issues for the county, state, etc. Hey, I’m no expert on politics or that sort of thing, I’m just applying my own theory to the subject.

Take, for instance, the story of William Marotta: Marotta, in what he thought was simply a kind gesture (or possibly a financial exchange) decided to donate his sperm to a lesbian couple who desired to have a child.  Although Marotta and the couple had a mutual written agreement that Marotta would not be parentally responsible for the child, when the lesbian couple later separated, a judge ruled otherwise.  Upon separation, one lady of the couple sought government assistance.  Consequently, in order to be reimbursed for providing said assistance, the state pursued child support.  Because that state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, it’s likely that only the lady who gave birth to the child is legally presumed to be the parent.  Thus, they are seeking reimbursement from the only other party that could possibly be held responsible, Marotta.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptions to when a parent can sign over their parental rights.  Specifically, if a man decides to become a sperm donor, and does so through an authorized medical facility, he will not be held responsible in the event that a child is conceived from his sperm.  The problem in the Marotta case was that rather than donate to an agency, he donated directly to the lesbian couple.

The point is, if for some reason one parent wants to avoid the parental responsibility of a child or wants to transfer the responsibility to someone else, the proper procedures must be followed.  It’s not as simple as signing on the dotted line to sign over parental rights. Your mutual agreements won’t necessarily suffice.