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Can Adoptive Parents Lose Parental Rights?

Posted On October 14, 2022 In Child Custody

When a couple adopts a child they may wonder if they have the same rights as a biological parent. The experience of adopting a child shows parents firsthand what termination of parental rights really means as they typically witness the process of termination of the biological parent’s rights. Adoptive parents understandably worry about their own rights when they adopt a child. One common question is, “Can adoptive parents lose parental rights too?”

Each state sets its own guidelines for the termination of parental rights. In Arizona, once adoption becomes final, the adoptive parents have the same parental rights as they would as birth parents. Just like birth parents, in rare instances, adoptive parents can lose their parental rights for the same limited reasons.

Under What Grounds Can Adoptive Parents Lose Their Rights?

Arizona law recognizes 11 grounds to terminate parental rights. These grounds apply to both biological parents and adoptive parents after the adoption is finalized. Of the 11 grounds, 7 are the most common. These are:

  • Consent (parents voluntarily give up parental rights so a child can be legally adopted by another family or turned their child over to a state organization)
  • Abandonment
  • Willful neglect
  • Chronic abuse (including sexual abuse)
  • The abuse of other children within the same home
  • Alcohol abuse or drug addiction (chronic or long-term)
  • Mental illness
  • Incarceration (felony convictions with sentences long enough to deprive a child of a home for a significant portion of their childhood)

Less common reasons the state may terminate parental rights include the following:

  • Parent identity is unknown even after 3 months of attempting to identify and locate them
  • A father failed to file a paternity action within 30 days of an adoption notification
  • A father didn’t file a notice of claim of paternity action

While Arizona considers these grounds for terminating a biological or adoptive parent’s rights, it doesn’t mean that these grounds always end in a termination, only that in these circumstances a court may consider whether or not a termination of parental rights would be in the best interest of the child.

What Happens When the Arizona Court Finds Grounds to Terminate Parental Rights?

If the courts decide to move forward with a termination of parental rights for adoptive or biological parents, the state’s Department of Child Safety first makes a thorough and documented search for relatives who are willing to have the child placed with them if they aren’t already placed with a family member. The agency informs the parents of the intent to terminate the relationship and issues directions to the parents about what to expect from the court proceedings, how to respond, and the directive to appoint an attorney or ask for a court-appointed attorney if they can’t afford their own.

Are The Rights of Biological and Adoptive Children Also the Same?

Just as the state of Arizona treats biological and adoptive parents the same regarding parental rights, the court also makes no distinction between adopted and biological children. Adoptive children become the legal heirs of their adoptive parents and are no longer the legal heirs of their biological parents. They are also entitled to support until the age of 18 just like a biological child, including in divorce cases.

Adoption severs the legal relationship between the biological parents in favor of the adoptive parents so the Arizona courts treat families with adopted children the same as families of biological children.