Here is a real question posted to a legal advice website:
"to drop my parent rights do I need a lawyer or can I do it myself thought the court house"
Some version of this question is asked or brought up on at least a monthly basis, and sometimes more often.
Let's start at the beginning. Virginia law doesn't talk about giving up, signing over, or otherwise relinquishing parental rights. As a parent, you fall into one of three categories.
1. You have parental rights. You have all the constitutional rights of the child's parent.
2. You have "residual" parental rights. You do not have the right to make day-to-day decisions concerning the child, but you have some rights of contact, the right to be heard on some decisions affecting the child, and the duty to support the child.
3. Your parental rights have been "terminated." You are a legal "stranger" to the child. You have no rights to make any decisions concerning the child; you have no right to contact the child; and you have no duty to support the child. (The child, however, can still inherit from you if you die without a will.)
That's it. You can't "sign over" your "parental rights" to the other parent. Your parental rights can only be terminated by a court order.
If you lose custody of a child, your parental rights are not terminated.
If you agree with the other parent that you give up visitation rights so you don't have to pay support, your parental rights are not terminated.
Your parental rights are only terminated if there is a court order that expressly or impliedly terminates your parental rights.
In Virginia, your parental rights can be terminated in one of four ways:
1. If your children are placed in foster care, and the local department of social services files a petition against you asking for the involuntary termination of your parental rights, and the court grants their petition, then your parental rights are terminated.
2. If you sign an entrustment agreement with the local department of social services or another child placing agency in which you agree to place the child for adoption, and the revocation period has expired, your parental rights are effectively terminated, although your duty to support may continue until a court order either terminating your parental rights or providing for the adoption of the child is entered.
3. If you are a custodial parent, you may file a petition for relief of custody and termination of parental rights. If the petition is granted, your parental rights are terminated. If you do not have custody, you may not file such a petition. If you are a noncustodial parent, you are not permitted to escape your obligation to pay child support by filing a petition for relief of custody, or by entering into an agreement with the other parent.
4. If you are the biological parent of a child, and a court enters an order of adoption to another parent, your parental rights are terminated.
That's it. There are no other ways to give up, relinquish, or lose your parental rights in Virginia.
You can't get out of paying child support by signing a paper "giving up" your parental rights.
You do not lose your parental rights just because you lose custody.
If you do enter into an agreement with the other parent not to pay support if you don't have any contact with the child, the agreement may not be enforceable by a court, and you may end up with a very big judgment for back child support.
If you need further assistance on this question, you should contact an experienced attorney for advice.
I am, after all, only a frog.
Felix J. Frogfooter
Amphibian and Counsellor at Law