Of all the different types of family law cases in Texas, adoptions tend to be the most optimistic and happy. Most of the time when we are talking about child custody or a divorce case some frustrating or sad circumstances go along with the case. Something is not right in the life of that family, so they are seeking assistance from the family courts to correct those wrongs and move forward positively. Even then, there are often still scars that are visible for any person to see and feel. Most people are not able to set aside a family law case like it was nothing.
Adoptions, on the other hand, are much cheerier than your typical family law case. New beginnings with a new family could be the theme of almost any adoption case that is filed in Texas. Whether you are the child (or adult) who is being adopted or are the adoptive family, there is plenty to celebrate in an adoption case. In a final hearing on adoption, there is a sense of accomplishment and happiness in the air. You can almost feel the optimism that comes with a brand-new adoption. A new beginning and a new life are possible for an adoptive child and for the family who adopted him or her.
Children become eligible for adoption for several reasons. A large percentage of children are adopted by their foster parents as well as by family members who have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the child can be raised by their kin rather than by a new family. The generosity and love that many families choose to share surrounding the topic of adoption never fail to amaze me. If anything, it causes a family law attorney such as me a great deal of joy to see what is possible when it comes to the human heart’s capacity for love as seen through an adoption case.
These families that choose adoption do so for their reasons, but the bottom line is that love is not a commodity in short supply in these families. Rather, these families understand the benefits that are available to a child in their household and as a result, they have chosen to expand their family by taking on an adoption. For a child (or an adult) who may have never been exposed to a home where love is abundant, it can be a truly life-changing experience to be adopted. Experiencing firsthand what joy and love look like together like this.
If a birth mother places a child up for adoption that is one thing. To have the child adopted by another person or married couple is the next step in the process which can only be completed by terminating the parental rights of both mother and the father. This assumes, of course, that there is a father who has legal rights to the child which also needs to be terminated. Placing a child up for adoption without the permission of a legal father can present unique challenges that we will be covering in today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. What can happen when it comes to putting a child up for adoption when you do not have the biological father's permission to do so?
The benefits of working with an adoption attorney
No matter what we find out along the way about the adoption of a child, it is preferable for you and your spouse to be represented by an experienced family law attorney. There are so many moving pieces in a typical adoption case. With your attention being diverted to so many different areas there is no wonder how and why the adoption case can get caught up in the myriad of details. The risk that you run when you go through with adoption without the assistance of an attorney is that you get forever bogged down in those details. Meanwhile, there is a little person out there who would love to join your family but is not able to do so.
The birth father of a child will need to be informed of the adoption case especially if he has also been named as the man who has legal paternity of the child. If you are reading this blog post as a man who is interested in petitioning the court to be named as the legal father to a child then you do not have a moment to waste in the case. Rather, you need to ensure that you have a plan when it comes to wanting to go through the legal process involved with petitioning the court to claim paternity. You have rights about your child, but those rights must be exercised sooner rather than later or you risk losing the rights forever.
What do the adoption laws in Texas have to say, generally speaking?
Any adult may adopt a child in Texas. If you seek to adopt a child who is 12 years old or older then that child must give their permission to a court for you to adopt him or her. The other requirement that you need to be aware of is that if you are married then your spouse must also join in as a party to the adoption for it to be approved. You will not be able to adopt a child individually without your spouse also being named as a party to the adoption process.
Biological fathers and their need to consent in a Texas adoption case
To adopt a child in Texas you would need to first see if both parents of the child will consent to your adoption. If the child’s mother places a child up for adoption, then you would still need to locate the biological/legal father of the child to determine whether he consents to an adoption. If the man is not the legal father to a child, then he may quickly take the steps necessary to have himself established as the biological father of the child (through genetic testing) and then go to court to legally have himself named as the father to the child. Note that if the biological father has his name on the child’s birth certificate, then he is already in a position as the legal father to the child and would not have to go through with these steps. You can ask to review a copy of the child’s birth certificate to see the status of paternity.
However, if the child’s father has abandoned the child, neglected the child, or is otherwise not involved in the life of the child then you may not have to go through with the process discussed above. In this situation, you can verify to see if the biological father's name is not on the birth certificate. In that situation, you would not need to verify legal fatherhood. That means that you can go ahead with your adoption without having to concern yourself with the whereabouts or status of the father. Bear in mind, however, that the biological father would have up to six months after the adoption concludes to challenge the proceedings.
The importance of an experienced adoption attorney in your case
Deciding to adopt a child is a serious one. Taking on the massive responsibility to support a child, both emotionally and physically, can be a tough one to navigate for a young family. On top of the emotional nature of a case you also have the difficulties associated with making deadlines, participating in any court-mandated counseling or services can also present challenges. In that case, you should consider where you can seek out trustworthy assistance.
An experienced family law attorney, preferably one who has assisted families like yours with a divorce, would be a great advantage for you to take advantage of. Many people assume that an attorney will be too expensive to afford or could be too much trouble when it comes to not having the ability to make decisions for themselves. However, I would invite you to seek out a consultation with one of these attorneys so you can decide for yourself in this regard.
I can assure you, however, that the experienced attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. If you are trying to learn more about adoption in Texas, then these consultations can provide you with the sort of information that you are seeking in a comfortable and friendly environment. Do not underestimate the importance of an attorney to help provide you with information and discuss with you the details associated with a case and how your specific circumstances may interact with the laws in Texas related to adoption.
How does this relate to adopting your stepchild?
If you are an adult who is the stepparent of a child younger than 18 then you can file to adopt your stepchild. Note that if you are trying to adopt your stepchild then your spouse must join you as a petitioner in the adoption case. A stepparent adoption case must allow for an order from the court which terminates parental rights between the child to be adopted and the parent of the child who is not your spouse. Your spouse will join you as the petitioner in the case and would not have their parental rights terminated.
In most cases, if your stepchild needs to obtain an order to terminate their "other" parent's parental rights before he becomes eligible to be adopted then the court will allow the termination and adoption cases to be filed together as one case. The termination and adoption cases would proceed simultaneously and would have matters discussed in the same hearing.
Where do stepparent adoption cases get filed?
You would file the adoption case in either the district or county court where the child lives or where you and your spouse live. There are two ways for you to begin a stepparent adoption case depending upon whether there is a parent-and-child relationship between your stepchild and the parent who is not married to you. Let's walk through those ways so that you can become familiar with them.
The first method would be if your stepchild's other parent is still alive and no court order terminated the parental rights between your stepchild and that parent. In that case, you would need to file an original petition to terminate the parent-child relationship and for stepparent adoption.
On the other hand, if your stepchild’s other parent is deceased or there is a court order of termination of parental rights between the stepchild and their other parent then you would need to file an original petition for adoption with the district or county court as discussed above.
Many family law attorneys, such as our own office, offer free-of-charge consultations where you can obtain information about the process involved with adopting a stepchild. An attorney can provide you with the requisite forms and even review them for you before going to a hearing. Or you can hire an attorney to do the filing and presentation work for you at a hearing. Keep in mind that all decision-making authority will be left to you regardless of whether you choose to hire an attorney. When you hire an attorney to just represent you in certain matters related to the case it is known as a limited-scope representation relationship.
Please note that there are also filing fees associated with filing your termination or adoption cases. The fees vary by county, and you can contact the district clerk's office for a fee schedule where you can learn about the fees and what you need to save to file your case. There is also a chance that you could ask the court to have your fees waived by filling out a statement of inability to afford the payment of court costs. You would need to have some financial documents available to be able to show that you lack the financial wherewithal to afford these costs.
What are the parties called in a stepparent adoption case?
In a stepparent adoption case, the petitioner will be the person who files a lawsuit. You will be one of the petitioners in your case since you are the child stepparent and are asking the court to be able to adopt your stepchild. Your spouse will be the other petitioner in the case since he or she is the biological parent to your stepchild.
On the other hand, your stepchild's other parent, assuming that he or she is still living, whose parental rights are going to be terminated in the adoption case will be named as the respondent in the lawsuit. In a civil case, a respondent is a person who is served with a lawsuit. If your termination lawsuit is agreed upon with the Co-parent to your stepchild, then the parent whose rights will be terminated will sign an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. You do not need to serve your child's other parent with this document.
Going to court in a stepchild adoption case
Likely, yes, you will need to go to court at least a couple of times for the termination of parental rights The court would likely order an adoption evaluation to be used to evaluate you and your spouse since you are requesting termination of your stepchild's relationship with their mother or father. Likewise, an attorney ad litem would be appointed to represent your stepchild in the case. Both you, your spouse, and your stepchild if he or she is 12 years of age or older must go to any adoption hearing.
Depending upon the age of your stepchild he or she must consent to the adoption in writing or in a courtroom hearing If he or she is 12 years of age or older. On the other hand, if your stepchild is 10 years of age or older and the adoption will change your stepchild's name then the child must consent to the name change in writing.
Overall, a stepparent adoption case will terminate the parent-child relationship that exists between your stepchild and their other parent. You would then be able to become the legal mother or father of your stepchild along with being named the managing conservator of your stepchild. From the perspective of the former parent, their obligation to pay child support would end once their legal relationship with the child ends. Your new child would be able to inherit money from you and the kid be in line to receive Social Security benefits were you to pass away before he or she turns 18.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.