Wondering about parental rights?
When a child under 18 becomes pregnant, it’s often a traumatic experience. There are many difficult decisions. Depending on the maturity of the child and level of social support, it may be appropriate to explore putting the baby up for adoption or ending the pregnancy.
Concerned About Minors’ Parental Rights? There Are Few Easy Answers
Parental rights accorded to minors vary by state. In most states, the minor’s parents must be involved in any decision to terminate a pregnancy. On the other hand, even in states where this is the case, a minor is often considered to be the main or sole authority on decisions involving the newborn’s welfare.
States vary considerably in their approach, and even two states that sit side by side may have totally different laws. This being the case, it is easiest to understand minors’ parental rights by looking at the major questions they often face.
Let’s review some basics in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC:
- Can a Minor Parent Consent to Put the Newborn Up for Adoption?
In Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, a minor parent has the legal power to put the newborn up for adoption without consent from the mother’s own parents. There is no requirement for third party involvement, such as court-appointed counsel, outside legal counsel, or parental notification.
- Can a Minor Parent Consent to Medical Care for the Newborn Child?
In Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, minor parents are explicitly provided with the legal right to consent to medical care for the newborn child. There are 30 states where this is the case. On the other hand, 20 states have no explicit policy.
- Can a Minor Parent Terminate a Pregnancy?
As of the time of this writing, 37 states require consent of the minor’s parent before a pregnancy can be terminated. Some states require parental notification, but do not require the parent to consent. A few states allow for alternatives such as the notification of a grandparent or other responsible relative.
In Virginia, parental notification and consent are both required. In Maryland, parental notification is required. In the District of Columbia, no explicit law provides any requirements for either consent or notification – effectively, this places the decision-making responsibility with the minor parent.
Minors’ Parental Rights to Make Decisions for Their Children
Parental rights extend to a variety of situations. They are broadly divided into physical custody, the right to have the child live with the parent, and legal custody, the right of the parent to make decisions about the child’s health, education, and upbringing. Those legal custody rights include:
- The right to make decisions about medical treatment on the child’s behalf
- The right to enter into a contract on a child’s behalf (for example, child actors)
- The right to pass property to the child through gifting or inheritance
- The right to make decisions about the child’s education and moral upbringing
Adult caregivers, such as the minor parent’s own parents, often provide a great deal of support to a pregnant minor and any resulting children. However, this material support doesn’t confer a parental right on its own. Only a court can vacate or confer parental rights.
For example, it is rarer for the parental rights of a 17-year-old to be vacated than for the rights of a younger child to be vacated. Even if everyone agrees, the matter must be brought up in family court.
Do you have more questions about parental rights? Jennifer Fairfax is an experienced, compassionate family law attorney who can help in difficult times. Contact us today for personalized advice.