Terminate parental rights of an unknown father

If you do not know who the biological father of the child is, you must ask the court to terminate the rights of an unknown father before moving forward with the adoption request.

Before you start

Make sure you have completed your Declaration of Mother. The Declaration will be filed at the same time as either your:

  • Application and Order to Dispense with Further Notice of Adoption Planning 
  • Petition to Terminate Parental Rights

You will attach the Declaration in support of your petition to terminate parental rights. 

Your Self-Help Center can advise on which format that court prefers (the Application and Order to Dispense with Further Notice of Adoption Planning or the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights). Get help from your court’s Self-Help Center or an attorney if you’re in this situation since the process can be complicated.

Ask the court to dispense with notice or terminate parental rights

  • Complete a petition to terminate parental rights

    • Attach a certified copy of the child/youth’s birth certificate. Identify the birth certificate as an Exhibit.
    • Complete the Proposed Order to Terminate Parental Rights of Unknown Father Sample order, unknown father

    • Send your Declaration to the Court at the same time you file the petition to terminate parental rights.
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    These are not court forms that you fill out. You must create a pleading document, which is information in a specific legal format. See the samples provided for the correct format or reach out to your Self-Help Center for assistance.

    You should also write a cover letter explaining your situation and include a self-addressed stamped envelope for the court. 


    Make copies of all of your forms and attachments.

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    You may wish to take the documents to the Family Law Facilitator at your Self-Help Center to review for accuracy 


  • File your forms with the court

    Check with your local Self-Help Center or with the Clerk of the Court to determine their local rules around filing the petition and lodging the order. 

    Some courts require online filing (called e-filing). You can find out if your court requires online filing by visiting your court’s website or by contacting your Self-Help Center.

    You can also go to the courthouse in your county and give your forms, attachments, and self-addressed stamped envelope to the clerk. 

  • Wait for the stepparent investigator to file a report

    The court will assign an investigator (unless you have provided your own investigator) to review your documents, run a missing person's search using the birth certificate, and conduct an interview with the mother and proposed stepparent. The goal is to determine if there is any other possible way to identify and provide notice to the alleged father.  

    The investigator files a report with the court with a recommendation. If they recommend terminating parental rights, the court may sign the order without a hearing. 

Stepparent adoption

What's next?

If the investigator recommends terminating parental rights and the judge signs the Order, you can move ahead and begin the preparation and filing of the adoption request. If the investigator identifies the alleged father, you’ll need to inform him about the process and see how he responds to your request.

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Have a question about Stepparent Adoption?

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