Relinquishment is voluntary consent to the termination of one’s parental rights to a child. It is also called “Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights” and “Consent to Adoption.”

Consent to adoption can also be exercised by other parties– courts, guardians, etc.– when circumstances dictate. However, this article deals with the voluntary signing of relinquishment papers by a child’s parents.

What You Need to Know

Laws governing consent and relinquishment vary from state to state. It is of primary importance that both adopting and placing parents understand the law and observe it. To understand how different state laws can be, let’s take a look at some of the legal provisions.

  • In some states, relinquishment is a judicial process, taking place in court; in other states, papers can be signed in front of agency representatives, a notary, or other designated person.
  • In some states, relinquishment terminates parental rights; in other states, relinquishment is only part of the process.
  • In most states, but not all, the law provides that relinquishment papers cannot be signed by a mother before the birth of a child. Alabama and Hawaii are more notable exceptions. However, even in those states where relinquishment can be signed before birth, there is no requirement to do so, and the actual termination of rights does not occur until after the birth of the child.
  • With few exceptions, however, state laws generally specify the earliest point at which consent can be signed following the birth of a child. This can range from immediately after birth to several days.
  • The wording of some state laws may make it appear as though relinquishment papers must be signed within a certain period, However, parents can sign relinquishment papers at any time after the initial no-sign period, if there is one.
  • Most state laws specify whether or not there is a period of time after signing during which the relinquishing parent(s) can revoke consent. In some states, relinquishment is irrevocable immediately at signing. in others, the time allowed can range from several days to months. The placement of a child in the home of a prospective adoptive family during this time is known as “legal risk placement.”
  • No state law obliges an expectant or placing parent to sign relinquishment papers because she or they may have accepted financial and other assistance from an agency or prospective adoptive parents. There is, however, at least one state (Idaho) that requires placing parents to refund to the adopting parents any expenses paid in the event they revoke an already-signed consent.
  • Many states have laws that may allow revocation or disruption of a pending adoption beyond the time allowed for revocation if there is strong evidence of fraud, duress, undue influence, coercion, or misrepresentation.
  • The rights of biological fathers must be respected, and failure to advise a known father and allow his participation in an adoption plan or allow him to explore his wish to parent can lead to the adoption being contested and possible disruption or dissolution.

Note for adopting parents: If you are adopting across state lines, the laws of both states must be taken into account, and the adoption is subject to oversight by the Interstate Compact. Be sure to consult a legal professional.

Note for placing parents: There should be no undue pressure placed on you to sign relinquishment papers or any “intent to relinquish” if you aren’t ready to do so. If you have any questions about what constitutes “fraud, duress, undue influence, coercion, or misrepresentation,” be sure to consult an attorney, or a proactive resource for placing parents such as Insight.

Check the law for your state

The information in this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.