What to Do When You Decide to Relinquish Your Parental Rights

Allison Sutton
By: Allison Sutton
PublishedAug 19, 2022
7 minute read

You’ve brought a child into the world but now realize you cannot provide the level of care the child needs. This is a heart-wrenching matter or a simple fact of life. Either way, you can’t move forward without making a choice that will have consequences for the rest of your and your child’s. If you’ve come to this conclusion, then here is what to do when you decide to relinquish your parental rights.

The Bottom Line: Colorado’s family courts would rather see children benefit from the love and care of their parents, but a court will allow you to voluntarily relinquish your parental rights if it’s in the best interest of the child. 

In This Guide:

  1. What Does Relinquishing Parental Rights Mean?
  2. Giving Up Parental Rights is a Serious Decision
  3. Alternatives to Relinquishing Parental Rights
  4. What is the Process for Relinquishing Parental Rights?
  5. Step One: Determine Who’ll Get Custody of the Child
  6. Step Two: Attend Mandatory Counseling
  7. Step Three: Prepare and File the Paperwork
  8. Step Four: Attend the Family Court Hearing

Talk to a Family Law Attorney If You Feel You Need to Relinquish Your Parental Rights

Family law cases involving children can be highly emotional. Therefore, it’s important to have the steady guidance of legal professionals who are ready listen and help you find the best possible resolution. If you’ve decided to legally terminate your parental rights and duties to your child, we strongly recommend talking to a family law attorney. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.

What Does Relinquishing Parental Rights Mean?

In Colorado, relinquishment is a legal process by which a mother or father severs all parental ties and allows another party to take custody of their child. The relinquishing parent no longer has any legal rights or obligations to the child.

If you relinquish your right, you give up your right to make any decisions concerning the child’s …

  • spiritual development
  • health care
  • education
  • moral upbringing
  • quality of life
  • other essential matters

By voluntarily giving up any claim to your child, you legally end your relationship to them. No longer will you have custody rights or financial support obligations. The law will not recognize you as the child’s parent after a Colorado court approves the relinquishment.

Giving Up Parental Rights is a Serious Decision 

The choice to terminate your parental rights should never be made in duress or over short-term hardship. There are valid reasons to consider such a choice, but they must always be weighed against the finality of permanently ending your rights to and relationship with your natural child.

Some reasons to consider relinquishing your parental rights include:

  • to make way for a legal adoption
  • to give permission for your former spouse and their new partner to adopt the child
  • you believe you cannot provide a safe or healthy environment for the child

There are many situations that can lead to a parent concluding that they cannot provide the right care or a healthy environment for their child. These include, but are not limited to:

  • long-term drug or alcohol abuse by the parent
  • long-term or permanent mental deficiency of the parent
  • you are currently, or scheduled to be, serving a long-term or lifelong prison sentence
  • you are unable to maintain regular or meaningful contact with the child

Voluntary and Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights 

In the above scenarios, a family law court can determine that a person is unfit to care for a child and move to legally sever the parent-child relationship. That is referred to as involuntary termination of parental rights.

But when a person reached their own conclusion that their child would not be safe, happy, or adequately supported in their care, the parent can pursue voluntary termination of parental rights.

That’s the focus of the remainder of this article: voluntarily relinquishing parental rights.

Can a Parent Relinquish Their Rights Without the Other Parent’s Consent? 

No. This means that a non-custodial parent, after a divorce, cannot voluntarily renounce their parental rights to avoid paying child support. It doesn’t work like that.

If a child’s parents are still alive, neither can voluntarily renounce their parental rights and obligations without the other parent’s consent. However, after a divorce, one parent can move to strip the other of their parental rights involuntarily, but only in extraordinary circumstances. Then a Colorado court would decide whether that is in the child’s best interest. Circumstances that can lead to involuntary parental relinquishment include:

  • severe neglect or abandonment
  • persistent criminal behavior
  • persistent drug or alcohol dependency
  • chronic mental illness
  • sexual abuse or child abuse
  • persistent failure or refusal to pay child support

Alternatives to Relinquishing Parental Rights 

The decision to terminate one’s own parental rights is sometimes made under overwhelming circumstances. But just because a situation is overwhelming doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Unfortunately, once you have legally terminated your parental rights, it is all but irreversible.

Except in truly extraordinary circumstances, you cannot come back later and regain parental status. Therefore, it’s wise to at least consider alternative options, such as:

  • modifying visitation arrangements
  • trying supervised visitation
  • seeking a settlement negotiation with the custodial parent
  • getting a temporary reduction in child support duties
  • resolving parenting conflicts with court-supervised mediation
  • giving someone else temporary guardianship or custody of your child

You might not feel like you’re fit to be a parent today, but over time you may be. And in the long run, it’s most beneficial for a child to experience a meaningful, loving bond with both of their parents.

Nevertheless, if you decide to follow through with your intention to relinquish parental rights, it’s important to retain an attorney. A lawyer can act as both an advisor and a guide through each step of the process.

What is the Process for Relinquishing Parental Rights?

The process of voluntarily giving up one’s parental rights is not an easy one. That is perhaps by design, to make sure the relinquishing parent has had ample opportunity to reconsider their decision. Still, the state understands there are situations when it is in the best interest of the child.

Step One: Determine Who’ll Get Custody of the Child 

In relinquishment situations, such as infant adoption or step-parent adoption, there’s already another party happy to take over and raise the child as their own. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

No matter the justification for giving up your parental rights and duties, there must be a new legal guardian ready to step in. The courts will not allow you to leave your child at the state’s doorstep.

The exception is Colorado’s Safe Haven Law which allows a parent to give up their child within 72 hours of the birth so long as the infant is unharmed and left at a fire station or hospital. Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-6-401(9)

Surrendering Parental Rights to Facilitate Adoption 

When a birth mother is giving up her infant child for adoption, she and the biological father must each legally relinquish their parental rights before the adoption can proceed. The biological mother and father can surrender their rights directly to the adoptive parents, or a licensed adoption agency.

Step Two: Attend Mandatory Counseling

You cannot ask the courts to legally terminate your parental rights and responsibilities unless you have first attended at least one counseling session with a licensed therapist. If your child is old enough, then he or she must attend the counseling with you.

During the session, you — and possibly the child, too — will be required to detail your reasons for the relinquishment request. The counselor will then explain the rest of the process and answer any questions you have.

Finally, the counselor will either draw up a concluding report on your session for the family court judge or will fill out an Affidavit of Relinquishment Counseling (see below), if you have brought one.

Step Three: Prepare and File the Paperwork

The stack of paperwork you file to relinquish parental rights must include at least these forms:

File Jointly or as an Individual?

If both parents are alive and able, then one cannot voluntarily surrender their parental rights without the consent of the other. One parent can file alone, or with the other parent as a co-petitioner. That decision is left between the parents. The court will not decide for you.

If both parents are filing on behalf of one parent’s request to relinquish parentage, then both must attend a counseling session. Each parent must also fill out the Petition for Relinquishment as well.

Note: Both the mother’s and father’s Relinquishment Interrogatory forms must be signed in front of either a notary public or court clerk. Do not sign these forms before meeting the public official who must witness the signatures.

If you decide to file for relinquishment on your own, then the other parent only needs to give their consent by filling out their designated Interrogatory Form. They will not be required to attend a counseling session or fill out their own separate Affidavit for Relinquishment.

More Forms and Statements May Be Required

Depending on your specific circumstances, the judge who will approve or deny your request might require additional forms, such as:

  • a statement about any payments, gifts, assistance or benefits you may have received in return for giving up your child, or for maintaining pregnancy and giving birth
  • a signed affidavit stating that you are not giving up your parental rights under duress, fraud, or coercion by an outside party, including a current or former spouse
  • an assessment of the adoptive family who will receive the child
  • any records pertaining to your social or medical histories
Where Do I File Relinquishment Papers?

Once you have downloaded and filled out the necessary forms, gotten notary stamps, and added any requested statements or affidavits, you must file it with the proper court.

All documents must be filed either in the county where the child lives or where you live.

If a child placement or adoption agency is involved, file the paperwork in the county where the agency is located.

Always file this paperwork in district court unless you are in Denver County, in which case the documents should go to the Denver Juvenile Court.

How Much Does it Cost to File Relinquishment Paperwork? 

There is no filing fee. However, the court clerk could ask that you complete additional forms which may come with a charge.

Step Four: Attend the Family Court Hearing 

Once the court has received your relinquishment petition, it will set a date for you to show up, present your case in person, and hear the judge’s decision.

Colorado courts prioritize the best interests of the child above all else. Even if you have submitted accurate and organized documents, the judge could deny your request if there is not enough good cause to approve it. Simply not wishing to be a parent will not suffice.

There Might Not be a Hearing for Infant Cases 

If the child in the matter is under one year of age, and the other parent either cannot be found or has expressed no objection to relinquishing parental rights, an adoption may proceed without any court hearing.

Get Help During Your Voluntary Relinquishment Process

No matter the circumstances, it’s never easy deciding to terminate parental rights to your child. Before you take any drastic steps, talk to a family law attorney about your legal options. If you ultimately decide that you want to move forward with relinquishment, the Family Law Team at Robinson & Henry can help you navigate this sensitive process. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.

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