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  • Writer's pictureHaley E. Medley

Understanding Parental Rights: Clarity in Family Law

Legal Lens: Viewing Law Through Ingrum Expertise

Child support - Ingrum Law

Have I lost/signed over my parental rights? A somewhat common area of confusion in family law is the status of a person's parental rights. It is not uncommon for a potential client to believe that they, or the child's other parent, have lost or signed over their parental rights when in fact they remain intact. Parental rights are very different from contact, visitation, and decision-making regarding a child. It is possible to have no contact, no ability to visit or make decisions, and still have your parental rights.

It is also possible, through post-adoption contact agreements, to surrender your parental rights while retaining the right to contact and visitation. Knowing where you stand legally with regard to your parental rights is an important distinction. One very important difference is the duty to support. If your parental rights remain intact, you almost certainly have an ongoing obligation to financially support that child. This remains true even if you are not permitted any contact with the child. When parental rights are terminated, the duty of ongoing support terminates as well. This does not necessarily include child support arrearages that are owed at the time of termination.

Another significant distinction is the right to access certain information. Generally speaking, unless a court has restricted access, if parental rights remain intact, a parent has the right to access school and medical records of the child. Without a specific agreement otherwise, termination of your parental rights generally terminates your right to access that child's medical and educational information as well. Absent very specific circumstances and exceptions, parental rights are not terminated in Tennessee without an intended adoption. A starting place to determining whether or not your rights have been terminated is to ask whether an adoption has taken place. For your parental rights to have been terminated without your consent, a hearing would have taken place, and you should have been served with notice of that hearing. People seeking to terminate your parental rights can proceed to trial without you being there if they are unable to locate you with permission of the court.

To avoid your rights being terminated without your knowledge, it is important to provide the parent or guardian of your child with current address and contact information. *Note that this blog relates to parental rights that have been recognized and established pursuant to Tennessee Law, not putative fathers. If you are unsure which category you or your child's other parent fall under, we can help with that too. If you need to determine whether your parental rights have been terminated or remain intact, give us a call for a consultation.

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