You can complete an adoption even if you cannot locate the father of mother of the child. Illinois law defines the grounds for adoption and requires certain procedures to be followed to ensure efforts to contact and give notice to the biological parents have been taken.
My child’s other parent has not paid child support, seen the child, or contacted us for several years. Can I simply have his or her parental rights terminated?
No, a termination of parental rights does not stand alone. Illinois law provides for termination of parental rights only in the context of the child’s adoption, or in Juvenile Court termination proceedings.
A parent has a continuing obligation to support his or her child, even if that parent does not actually pay. If the non-paying parent’s parental rights were terminated, the government would bear a larger burden to support the child. Public policy states that a child is to be placed for adoption if a birth parent becomes unfit. This means another parent should “step into the shoes” of the absent birth parent.
What grounds of unfitness exist when dealing with absent birth parents?
In the context of absent parents, grounds of unfitness include:
- Abandonment of a newborn infant in a hospital.
- Abandonment in any setting where the evidence suggests the parent intended to relinquish his or her parental rights.
- Failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility for the child’s welfare.
- Desertion of the child for more than 3 months before beginning the adoption proceedings
- Failing to visit, communicate or maintain contact with the child for 12 months.
- Failing to make a good faith effort to pay a reasonable amount of the child’s birth expenses.
- Provide reasonable financial support for the child.
What is abandonment?
Any conduct by a parent that demonstrates “a settled purpose to forgo all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child.” Conduct considered abandonment includes a parent failing to pay child support or failing to contact or visit the child (or both) for several months or years.
What type of conduct negates an abandonment claim?
- Attempting to continue a relationship with the child.
- Paying child support.
- Visiting or attempting to visit the child.
- Sending or attempting to send correspondence to the child.
Also, if the custodial birth parent prevents visitation, contact, or payment efforts by the non-custodial birth parent for a significant period, the non-custodial parent’s inability to visit, contact, or pay for the child is not considered abandonment.
How does desertion differ from abandonment?
Desertion requires something less than abandonment, but still requires the birth parent’s conduct that demonstrates his or her intent to terminate custody over the child permanently.
How do I begin an adoption in which I will allege the absent birth parent’s unfitness?
You must file a petition for adoption. The petition must allege several facts about the prospective adoptive parents, the child, and the absent birth parent. Specifically, the adoption petition must allege grounds of unfitness of the absent birth parent, though it does not necessarily need to detail all facts supporting the alleging grounds of unfitness.
Must the absent birth parent be notified of the adoption proceedings?
In most instances, yes, because the courts give significant protection to parental rights. One exception to providing notice is if the absent birth parent is a father who failed to register with the Illinois Putative Father Registry within 30 days after the child’s birth. Failure to register timely with the Registry is considered a waiver of any right to notice of any adoption hearing, constitutes abandonment of the child, and is evidence of grounds to terminate the father’s parental rights.
If notice to the absent birth parent is required, how must the notice be accomplished?
If the adoptive parents know the location of the absent birth parent, they must attempt to actually serve him with summons.
Illinois adoption law also allows “service by publication” of a legal notice in a newspaper, but only if:
- The absent birth parent resides or has left Illinois.
- On due inquiry cannot be found.
- Is concealed within Illinois so process cannot be served.
- His or her place of residence cannot be ascertained upon diligent inquiry.
What if the absent birth parent fights the adoption and unfitness allegations?
Before completing any adoption involving an alleged absent birth parent, the court must find clear and convincing evidence of the absent birth parent’s unfitness. Contesting grounds means a trial or hearing on unfitness will be necessary.
What if the court does not find the absent birth parent unfit?
Without grounds for unfitness, the adoption petition must be denied. If so, the court must promptly conduct a hearing about the child’s temporary and permanent custody.
What happens if the absent birth parent is found unfit?
The court must next determine whether terminating his or her parental rights and granting the proposed adoption is in the child’s best interest. Usually but not always, a finding of best interest in favor of the adoption follows an unfitness finding.