A father came in today and told me the following story. He is divorced and had a fling with a much younger woman. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. By this point the man and the woman can’t stand each other. Mom wants him to get lost; he is quite willing to do it. He wants to pay her a lump sum instead of monthly child support until the child is emancipated and relinquish all parental rights to the child? Can he do it?
The simple answer is — probably not. In the 1996 Appellate Division case of Michelle W. v. Forrest James P. the Court found that any termination of parental rights had to go through the legal process of a court of competent jurisdiction — here the Family Court — and had to give notice to the appropriate public welfare official. The Court is required to make a thorough investigation of the parties’ finances and to make an independent determination as to the best interests of the child.
The Court held that a contract exchanging parental rights for compensation was simply not valid. The severing or establishing of parental rights can only be accomplished through statutorily governed proceedings such as adoptions or permanent neglect proceedings. No agreement between the parties regarding the custody of their children can bind the Court, which must make an independent determination as to the best interests of the child.
A contract between the parents depriving the child of his or her rights is not binding on the child; agreements cannot be upheld where children are treated as chattels and their rights bartered away. A parent cannot buy another parent’s rights or sell his or her rights.
They are each going to learn to deal with each other — for a long time. Good idea to think before you act.