Indeed, many cases resolve before trial, either days or weeks or months before, or on the first day of trial, with a parent or parents’ agreement to “surrender” or “sign,” meaning they agree to voluntarily give up their parental rights to the child.
This typically is done when there is a plan for the child to be adopted. Birth parents will surrender their rights in exchange for post-termination and post-adoption agreements, often discussed collectively as an “Open Adoption Agreement” or “OAA.” These provide for some measure of contact between the biological parent and child after the termination of parental rights and/or after adoption. The stipulations within an OAA are varied, anywhere from only mail correspondence to regular and ongoing visits. As part of surrendering and entering into an open adoption agreement, the parent waives his or her right to appeal.
Although many pre-adoptive parents are enthusiastic about the possibility of avoiding trial and entering into an OAA, we have found that birth parents are almost always at a disadvantage when considering these, as they run the risk of having no contact with their children should they proceed through a TPR and be ruled against.
Furthermore, although an OAA stipulates minimum contact that an adoptive parent has to allow after an adoption, OAA’s are notoriously difficult to enforce, and to do so requires that a birth parent access and navigate the legal system, which many do not have the resources or capacity to do. We encourage pre-adoptive parents to be mindful and compassionate when discussing the possibilities around an OAA with court personnel, DCF staff, and most importantly birth parents.