1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What Is Meant by the Term Parental Rights?


Question: What Is Meant by the Term Parental Rights?

The idea of parental rights is mentioned often in the world of child welfare. It’s important to understand what parental rights refers to and who holds parental rights during different stages of child custody within the foster care system.


Parental rights is a term used to define and describe the legal obligations that goes with being a parent of a minor child. This includes the responsibility of caring for the child and decision making power over a minor child’s care.

Birth parents are a child’s legal parents and hold the parental rights of their child, even if that child is in the foster care system. Custody and parental rights is not the same thing. A parent may not have physical custody of their child and still have their parental rights intact, like in a foster care situation.

    Most state foster care agencies will inform foster parents, birth parents and the foster child of their rights. A few examples of what a birth parent's rights may look like include:
  • The right to have visitation with their child.
  • The right to make educational decisions for a child.
  • The right to make medical decisions regarding the care of a child.
  • The right to decide a child’s religious practice and involvement.
  • The right to agree to the involvement of the child in various activities, sports, or clubs.
  • The obligation of financial care for the child.
  • The obligation of being legally and financially responsible for the actions or damages caused by a minor child.

If a parent’s rights are terminated, then the state agency or social worker over the case ensures that the child's needs are met with approval of the court and judge over the case.

Once the child is adopted, then the adoptive parents are the child’s legal parents and thus have parental rights for the child.

Who holds parental rights is one way in which adoptive parenting and foster parenting is different.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.