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Adoption Case Law: Waiver of Interest: (In re I.M.P.) | Adoption Law

What Is A Waiver of Interest and Notice?

A Waiver of Interest and Notice is a form taken directly from the Tennessee adoption statute.  A Waiver of Interest can only be signed by a putative father.  (For more information about fathers, click here. [link to Blog: Don’t Forget About Fathers]).  A common scenario is the birth mother is not married to the birth father, and he agrees with the adoption plan.  The birth father can sign the form in front of a notary, and upon finalization of the adoption, his parental rights are terminated.  His rights are not terminated until the adoption is finalized so that if the adoption is not finalized as planned, the birth father can still be held responsible for the child’s financial support.

A Wavier of Interest can also be signed in other types of adoptions, such as a stepparent adoption or relative adoption if the biological father agrees to have his parental rights terminated.  The signed, notarized Waiver of Interest is filed with the Court along with the Petition For Adoption.

In re I.M.P.

In re I.M.P. was a case decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2010. The Court found that a Waiver of Interest may not be revoked once it is signed under oath.

In this case, an alleged father filed a Petition to Establish Paternity and Set Co-parenting Time with the child.  But he had already signed a Waiver of Interest and Notice giving up any rights he may have to the child. The trial court ordered a DNA test which showed that the father was the biological father of the child.

In Tennessee, an alleged biological father may sign a Waiver of Interest and Notice under oath waiving his parental rights to the child as well as any rights to notice regarding the adoption, custody, or guardianship of the child.  By signing the waiver, father’s parental rights are terminated upon the entry of a final order of adoption.

The statute states that a Waiver of Interest may not be revoked.  The only exception to this rule is if a father can prove that he signed the Waiver of Interest under fraud, duress or intentional misrepresentation.  The father in this case wanted to revoke the Waiver of Interest by claiming duress. The father argued that he signed the Waiver of Interest against his will and under pressure from the child’s biological mother and grandmother.  However, the trial court held that the father did not prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that he signed the Waiver of Interest under duress.

What is “clear and convincing” evidence?

The court defined “clear and convincing evidence” as evidence showing that the father had no free will when he signed the Waiver of Interest. The trial court expressed concern about the pressure placed on the father by the biological mother and the adoption agency, but said it was not enough to prove duress. Because the father was able to discuss the waiver with other people before he signed the document, he had not been deprived of his free will.

Additionally, the father signed the waiver after multiple meetings with the mother and adoption agency and he was always free to leave these meetings if he chose.  This evidence that the father had time and freedom to think about his decision before signing the Waiver of Interest convinced the court that the father had not signed the waiver under duress.

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity

The Waiver of Interest statute states that if a father executes a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity before a final order of adoption is entered regarding the child, the father will become liable for child support.  However, the court of appeals found that the father filing a Petition to Establish Paternity did not qualify as a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity under the statute.  Additionally, a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity only applies to the duty to support and does not return paternal rights to a father after the Waiver of Interest has been signed.  Therefore, the court of appeals agreed with the ruling of the trial court and held that the Waiver of Interest was valid, and that the father’s parental rights had been irrevocably terminated.

If you have questions about how the adoption process works, we would love to hear from you.  Contact the Adoption Law Center of Middle Tennessee, PLLC today at (615) 543-8640.