Failure to Respond Can Terminate Rights by Default
Video Transcribed: Where can a relinquishment of parental rights be signed in Oklahoma? I’m Oklahoma lawyer James Wirth, and that is the question that we have. It actually came from our online Facebook group, Legal Questions Answered in Oklahoma, where they’re asking, “What are some of the places where signage of voluntary consent to relinquishment of parental rights can be signed? Can the event of signing the voluntary consent agreement to relinquish parental rights be done outside of the courtroom or outside of the courthouse and still be valid? Is a hearing required for that?”
All right, so generally speaking if we’re talking about a relinquishment that’s generally part of either a deprived child action, where parental rights are terminated and the children are adopted out or some other adoption that requires the termination of parental rights. For instance, in a stepparent adoption, the other parent’s parental rights may be terminated or relinquished as part of that process. Or if the state takes custody, that’s where you have the deprived child action. And then you go before the court and you fight to get your kids back, or sometimes you work in agreement for the relinquishment to avoid a trial. So they’re talking about in that scenario, if you sign that relinquishment outside of court, is that still valid to have your rights relinquished or terminated?
I would say generally speaking, no. That said, it’s not that definitive where the document is signed. However, the court is going to require a hearing to make sure that you are in the right state of mind in order to sign that to make sure that it’s voluntarily given without duress and with you being in the proper state of mind in order to understand those proceedings. So just like if you go before the court to enter a plea guilty to receive a plea deal in a criminal case in the state of Oklahoma where there’s a list of questions the courts generally go through on what we call the Lumpkin form to determine whether you have capacity at that moment where you’re acknowledging that you’re not on any medication that’s affecting your ability, that there’s not any medication that you should be taking, that you’re not taking that’s affecting your ability, that you understand the proceedings and that you understand the consequences and you wish to move forward. That same sort of record is going to want to be made in front of the court with the court reporter present as part of the court file in order to support something as serious as a termination of parental rights or the relinquishment of parental rights.
So it’s not necessarily just about where the document is signed, if you’re signing that over, it’s about at the time or around the time that it was signed, did you have the capacity to do so. Were those proper questions asked by the court in front of a court reporter to make sure it was knowingly and voluntarily entered? Because if it wasn’t, there could be grounds for that parent to try to get it vacated later. And having this back and forth of cases where we’re talking about young kids involved generally isn’t in the best interest of anyone. So, everyone who wants to make sure when it’s entered, it’s done properly without grounds to get it undone with everybody understanding the consequences of getting it entered.
So can it be done completely outside of the court? No, it can’t. However, there is one exception to that rule, but it’s when it’s not done by agreement. There are a few different ways that you can get to a termination of parental rights. One, if you go to trial for termination or termination in the case of a deprived child action or adoption, then that’s going to be in court, evidence, and testimony is going to be heard and that’s going to be decided. The other way is going to be what we’ve already talked about, voluntary agreement for relinquishment and termination. That is going to be done in court where you acknowledge that you have the capacity to enter that agreement and you’re agreeing to that and you sign the proper documentation.
And the other one is if you’re in default. So let’s say you were properly served, but you failed to show up to court, rather than hamstring the court to where they can’t move forward at all, there are procedures in place to be able to default that parent and they can terminate those parental rights by default if you are refusing to participate. And in that case, you have not done anything inside the court other than not appearing in court, but the court could then make a determination that you’re defaulted and make orders against you in those circumstances.
Hopefully, that answers the question of the person that posted in that group. If not, obviously you can post additional questions, as can anybody else. But if you are going through this scenario, the information for you is going to be very specific to your circumstances because there can be a lot of nuance to this area of the law. So you’re going to want to talk to an attorney about your specific case privately and confidentially. To get that scheduled with a child custody attorney in Tulsa at my office, you can go online to MakeLawEasy.com.