The Illinois Adoption Act allows for the termination of parental rights in conjunction with an adoption. In order to do this, there must first be a showing that a biological parent is “unfit,” as defined in the adoption act. While the Adoption Act provides several grounds of unfitness, one of the most prevalent is the parent’s failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the child’s welfare.
If you’re wondering whether your child’s parent may be considered unfit due to his or her failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, consider the following questions:
- Does the parent exercise parenting time with the child?
- Is the parent involved in school or extra-curricular activities?
- Has the parent sought court ordered parenting time with the child?
- Does the parent attempt communication with the child?
- Does the parent send letters, emails, or social media messages expressing interest, concern, or responsibility over the child
- Does the parent financially support the child?
- Does the parent send the child gifts and letters on special occasions?
If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you may have an argument for unfitness based on a failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in the child’s welfare.
Illinois law recognizes that circumstances outside of a parent’s control might preclude him or her from maintaining a reasonable degree of interest in the child. For example, a court might consider that a parent’s difficulty in obtaining transportation to a child’s residence might hinder the parent’s ability to have parenting time. Or it might be relevant that a primary parent concealed the child from the allegedly unfit parent, limiting that parent’s ability to communicate with or send correspondence or gifts to the child. The bottom line is that the court must consider whether the parent’s failure to display a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility was motivated by the need to cope with other aspects of their life, or by true indifference to the child.
In circumstances where a parent wants another person to adopt the child, that parent can petition the court to have the other person assume legal rights. First, the petitioning parent must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the allegedly uninvolved parent has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for the child. In the event the petitioning parent can do so, the court must then determine whether termination of parental rights would be in the child’s best interest. If the Court finds it is in the child’s best interest, the uninvolved parent’s rights will be terminated, and that parent shall be relieved of all parental responsibility for the child, depriving him or her of all legal rights to that child. At that point, the child may be adopted by the other person after the court finds it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
Parental rights are not merely a byproduct of biology, rather they include an obligation to care for and support the child. When a parent forgoes his or her rights by not maintaining a reasonable degree of interest in the child, that parent can forfeit those rights in favor of another more worthy parent.
Syck v. Snyder, 138 Ill. 2d 255 at 279 (1990)
750 ILCS 50/17