Adoption and Termination of Parent Rights



Although many of the adoptions in Iowa start off at adoption agencies, each one of them will eventually find its way to court. Before an Adoption can be permitted, a court must agree that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

This is where a well qualified Adoption lawyer will be useful. These attorneys make sure that process runs smoothly, and most importantly, quickly.  

Growing your family through adoption can be a joyous event. But due to some of to the statutory requirements surrounding the adoption process and paperwork, it can be legally complex and potentially confusing as well. Iowa has law in place that regulate who can be adopted, by whom, and how. And without legal assistance, the layperson might have trouble making sense of the statutes and understanding the procedures necessary to adopt. This is an introduction to adoption laws in Iowa.

Adoption Statutes

Iowa Statute Ch.  600.1 details the process. Any person may be adopted. If the person is age 14 or older, the consent of the person to be adopted is required.  Unmarried adult; husband and wife together; husband or wife separately under certain circumstances. Iowa has a residency provision before the matter can be finalized: the adoptee must reside in Iowa for 180 days; which may be shortened for good cause.

Under the laws of Iowa, unmarried adults are allowed to adopt, and both spouses must join in the adoption unless certain circumstances apply. And any person may be adopted, and persons over the age of 14 must give their consent before being adopted.  In addition, Iowa has allowed same-sex couples to adopt, either as co-parents or as step-parents, since 2008. Much of the adoption process could take place in Court .

The rights of natural parents need to be addressed Parental rights may need to be terminated before an Adoption occurs.

What Are "Parental Rights"?

  The natural or adoptive parent of a person is deemed the legal parent and you have "parental rights" to the child.  When your parental rights to a child are terminated, you stop being that child's parent. You no longer have the right to say where the child will live, or what kind of education or medical care the child will get, or what religion the child will be brought up in. You no longer have the right to get information about the child, such as school or medical records, child abuse reports, and information from law enforcement agencies and the courts. You cannot have contact with the child unless the child's legal guardians say agree. There is a saying in the law that a parent whose rights to a child are terminated becomes a "stranger" to that child.

Why Are Parental Rights Terminated?

Only a judge can terminate someone's parental rights. In most cases, judges are asked to terminate a parent's parental rights by the state, or by whoever has been taking care of the child, usually the child's other parent.
The state is represented in the court system by the county attorney. When a county attorney believes that a child in that county is in danger because his/her parents are not taking care of the child properly, the county attorney may file a special kind of case called a CINA. CINA stands for "Child In Need of Assistance." If a judge decides the child does need assistance, then the Department of Human Services will try to help the parents take better care of the child. Sometimes this works, and the parents are able to go on raising their child. Sometimes the county attorney decides that the child is not going to be safe unless the child is taken away from his or her parents permanently. Then the county attorney will ask the judge to terminate the parents' parental rights.

It is also possible for someone who is not the county attorney to ask a judge to terminate someone's parental rights. Sometimes the parents live apart, and the child lives with one parent. The parent with whom the child lives is called the custodial parent. If the custodial parent gets married again, his or her new wife or husband may want to adopt the child. Before this can happen, the custodial parent will have to ask the court to terminate the other parent's parental rights (the other parent is called the non-custodial parent).

Sometimes the child is not living with either parent, but is being taken care of by a family member (such as a grandparent) or even a non-relative (such as a friend of the family). People like these can ask a judge to terminate the parents' parental rights too. They do this so that they can adopt the child themselves.

A court will not terminate someone's parental right just because someone else asks. The person asking for the termination must show that the parent has abandoned the child or is a danger to the child. They must show this in court, with evidence. Evidence can be witness testimony and documents, like medical reports. Terminating a person's parental rights is a serious step, and a court will not do it unless the evidence is "clear and convincing."

How Are Parental Rights Terminated?

Your parental rights can only be terminated by a judge, and only when somebody asks the judge to do it. You cannot "give up" your parental rights, although if somebody asks the court to terminate your parental rights you can consent (agree) to the termination. Many people wonder if they can give up their parental rights because they don't want to pay child support. In most cases, a court will not allow this. That is because a person with parental rights is also a person with parental responsibilities. Under Iowa law, parents are responsible for supporting their children. Iowa law also says it is almost always best for children to have parents who are responsible for supporting them.

If you don't want your parental rights terminated, you have the right to a trial.  The judge will hear the evidence and make the decision. At your trial you have the right to present witnesses and other evidence. You also have the right to question the other side's witnesses and examine any other evidence they present.


In human biology, paternity refers to the man who is the father of a child. Iowa law uses the word "paternity" to address many more issues. A legal finding of paternity involves both rights and responsibilities. Iowa law requires a "legal father" to support his child(ren). If a man does not provide the support for which he is determined to be responsible, the law also provides ways to enforce the obligation.

How are decisions about paternity made in Iowa?
Paternity is determined in one of three ways:

  • marriage;
  • genetic (DNA) testing; or
  • affidavit or agreement.

Establishing paternity often involves going to court. Most of those cases are filed by Iowa's Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU).

Is the legal father always the biological father?
Not always. Suppose a woman who is married to a man has a baby whose father is not her husband. The law says her husband is the legal father of the child. Then the woman and her husband separate. If she asks and gets child support, her husband will be responsible for paying the amount of child support. Another example would be when a man does not respond to notices from the court or CSRU claiming he is the father and a "default" order is entered.

What happens after CSRU sends Notice to Comply with Paternity Testing:

  • A person who does not reply to the CSRU notice will be ordered to pay support.
  • A person who does not comply with an order for genetic testing will be ordered to pay support.
  • If a man does not know whether he is the father, he must respond to the notice by the deadline listed on the notice or a default order will be entered. The court will assume he is the father and order support to be paid.
  • If a man is served with a notice and does not understand it or how to respond, he should seek legal advice.

Note: Even if a man agrees he is the legal father, he should make sure CSRU has his accurate income information so the support order is fair.

What can a man responsible for paying child support do if he is not the father of the child?
He can ask a court to find that he is not the biological father of the child. This process is called "disestablishing paternity." If the court takes away the obligation to support the child, it also ends the right to see the child. There are three ways to have paternity reviewed:

  • The legal father files a request for genetic testing after he gets a notice from Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU);
  • A parent files for divorce; or
  • A parent files a case in court to disestablish paternity.

The Legal Father Files a Request
After the legal father files a request with CSRU, CSRU will ask the court to order paternity testing.

  • CSRU pays for the genetic testing, and
  • If paternity tests show the man is not the father (under 95% chance that he is the father), they will stop the process of trying to collect from the husband.

 A Parent Files for Divorce

  • Divorce cases make the court decide custody and child support questions.
  • If the child was born or conceived during the marriage, but is not the husband's child, the court can disestablish paternity of the husband.
    • Husband and wife must agree in writing that husband is not the father.
    • An attorney must be appointed for the child(ren).
    • Genetic testing (to be paid for by the person requesting) can, and usually is, required by the court.
  • If the husband does not ask the court to look at paternity during the divorce, support will probably be ordered in the divorce decree. If it isn't, CSRU will get a child support order against the husband if the wife received state benefits (like FIP or Medicaid).

A Parent Files a Case in Court to Disestablish Paternity
The requirements for an action are:

  • The child is under age 18;
  • The court must appoint an attorney to represent the child;
  • DNA tests either have not already been done or show the legal father is not the biological father;
  • If paternity was established by affidavit, the court must find that it was based on fraud, duress or mistake; and
  • The paternity determination was originally made in Iowa or the paternity order from another state is registered in Iowa.

What Happens When a Man Is Proven Not To Be the Father?

  • If paternity is overcome, any unpaid support due at that point is considered satisfied or paid in full.
  • If paternity is overcome, all future obligations are gone.
  • Support that has already been paid cannot be recovered.

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