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Step-parent adoption in Texas: How it works and how to get started

If you are the stepparent of a child you have the ability in Texas to file a case that seeks the adoption of your stepchild. Often times your spouse (the child's biological mother or father) will join together with you. In that instance, you and your spouse would be co-petitioners in the adoption case.

To file a stepparent adoption case there are certain steps that you need to follow in order to be successful. Failing to file your case in the manner that a court would need can potentially delay your case. That delay not only means that time will have been lost, but money will also have to be spent in order to correct any mistakes that you have made.

Where should you file the stepparent adoption case?

You will need to file your adoption case in the county where your stepchild resides or where you and your spouse reside. Most of the time a county or district court in either location will be the appropriate court where you should file. Once you find out where to file your case you can begin to think about the following steps.

For the most part, there are two ways to begin a stepparent adoption case. The path you take will depend on whether a parent-child relationship exists between your stepchild and their parent who is not your spouse.

In the event that your stepchild’s other parent is alive and has intact parental rights in relation to your stepchild (there is no court order that has terminated his or her parental rights) you will need to file an Original Petition to Terminate the Parent-Child Relationship and for Adoption.

On the other hand, if your stepchild’s other parent is deceased or there is a court order that has already terminated that parent’s parental rights In relation to your stepchild then you will only need to file an Original Petition for Adoption.

Either route that you take will require that you hire an experienced family law attorney, such as those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Adoption is not the sort of case where you would be wise to represent yourself. It is long, difficult and complicated. A family law attorney who has specific experience in handling stepparent adoption cases is a great short-term investment that you can make in order to achieve a long-term goal.

What kind of lawyer should you hire to represent you in a stepparent adoption case?

Finding a lawyer to represent you in an adoption case involving your stepchild is not difficult. However, it is more difficult to find an attorney to represent you in a stepparent adoption case who has experience doing so. There is nothing wrong with an attorney who is working hard to gain experience in a particular area of the law. However, my advice would be to avoid hiring that particular attorney if you can help it. Instead, choose an attorney who has worked with families like yours before.

In fact, you can even hire a family law attorney to just give you advice, provide you with the necessary forms that you will have to file and to review your paperwork before you file it. You can even expand that relationship to include preparing you for important hearings (hint: they are all important when it comes to an adoption case). If you believe that you are capable of handling the remaining parts of the adoption case on your own, you can choose to do so.

These sort of limited scope agreements are possible with our attorneys. I would recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to set up a consultation with one our attorneys to discuss your particular case and to see what sort of attorney-client relationship is right for you and your family.

What sort of up-front costs should you anticipate when filing a stepparent adoption case?

Adoption cases, as you have likely heard, can be rather expensive. That does not mean that yours has to be, and it certainly does not mean that your adoption case would be just like any other family’s that you’ve heard about previously. However, you do need to be aware that in order to file an Original Petition for Termination and Adoption or an Original Petition for Adoption that there are certain costs involved.

When you file a termination/adoption case you will pay a filing fee. That fee will vary from county to county. If you are not hiring an attorney, you can call the district clerk’s office to obtain a fee schedule so that you can know ahead of time how much you will be expected to pay in order to file the paperwork. Depending on the county where your case is going to be heard, you can contact the clerk and see if there is any way that you can petition the court to have the filing fees waived based on your inability to afford to pay them.

What would your title be during the adoption case?

In a stepparent adoption case where you are the stepparent, your spouse would be a co-petitioner. A Petitioner is a person who is petitioning (asking) the court for something to be provided to him or her. In an adoption case, you are petitioning the court to terminate the parental rights of your stepchild's other parent, and/or to be able to then adopt your stepchild. If you are awarded the relief that you are seeking then your stepchild will simply be your child, as if he or she were your natural-born, biological offspring.

Just to be clear, your spouse must join in the case as a co-petitioner even though he or she is already the parent to that child. This can seem to be unnecessary in a lot of ways but it is the law and it is worth pointing that out now so it doesn’t surprise you (or your spouse) later on in the process.

What would your stepchild’s other parent’s title be during the adoption case?

If your stepchild's other parent is living and has intact parental rights as to your stepchild, then he or she would be titled as the Respondent in the termination/adoption case. This means that he or she would be responsible for responding to your Petition. He or she can dispute allegations that you present in your petition and cite the reasons why he or she believes that your petition should be denied by the court.

It probably goes without saying (but nonetheless I will mention it here anyway) that if your stepchild has only one legal parent (your spouse), there will not be a respondent in the adoption case.

Do you have to first terminate the other parent’s parental rights before you can adopt your stepchild?

Yes, and here is why. In order for you to move forward with your stepparent adoption case, the law in Texas maintains that you must first have an order in place that has terminated the parental rights between your stepchild and the other parent. Your spouse's parental rights do not need to be terminated and he or she will join in your adoption case as a co-petitioner, as I have already explained.

The court in which you file your stepparent adoption case will also allow you to file the termination case at the same time under the same cause number. Essentially there will be one active case but two processes at play: the first will be terminating the parental rights between the other parent and your stepchild, while the other is the adoption of your stepchild once the aforementioned parental rights are terminated.

Will you have to go to court for either the termination or adoption cases?

If you get to the stage where the adoption case is ready to be heard, you will need to attend a court hearing. If your stepchild is over the age of twelve he or she will need to attend the hearing as well.

Usually, both petitioners, you and your spouse, will need to attend the adoption hearing. However, if you can show that it would be overly difficult for one of you to attend the hearing, you can submit something in writing to the judge. He or she can consider your arguments and issue a ruling on whether you or your spouse can decline to attend. The same can be done for your child who is over 12 years of age. If you can convince a judge that it is not in your stepchild's best interests to be present at the hearing, the requirement that he or she be there may be waived as well.

Does the opinion of your stepchild matter during the adoption process?

What we are trying to find out in this section of the blog is whether or not your child has to consent to allow you to adopt him or her. If your child is over the age of 12 then the answer is, yes. He or she must appear in court and orally consent (give permission) to you to move forward with the adoption. If he or she will not be attending the hearing then consent may be shown by providing a written statement of permission, instead. Again, this requirement can be waived if a judge decides that to require the permission of the child would go against that child’s best interests.

What are the issues that will be decided in your step-parent adoption case?

There are a host of issues that are determined in a stepparent adoption case. First of all, the termination of your stepchild’s other parent’s parental rights will be decided. If the court decides to terminate those parental rights then your adoption case can move forward. If the court decides not to terminate those parental rights then your adoption case will never be heard by the court.

Next, assuming that the parental rights of the “other” parent are, in fact, terminated then you would be in a position to become the parent to your stepchild. This allows him or her to be in a position to inherit from you upon your death or to take advantage of other benefits that only a parent and child share. You can also ask that your child’s last name be changed to yours if that is what you and your spouse would want to do.

Will the family court judge automatically approve your adoption petition?

It is not a sure thing that your adoption petition will be granted by the family court. An adoption evaluation is typically conducted that will allow the judge to learn more about your home and your potential fitness as a parent. Next, a criminal history report will be obtained and reviewed by the judge to determine if you have any “red flags” in your past.

If all of these requirements are met and the judge is satisfied that allowing you to adopt the child is in his or her best interests then your petition will likely be granted. As you can see, there are many steps to the process and it is wise to be ready at the beginning of your case in order to meet any challenges that come your way.

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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. Adoption in Texas: Essential information that you need to know
  2. How can a step parent adopt their step child in Texas?
  3. How can parental rights be terminated in Texas?
  4. Termination of Parental Rights and an MSA in Texas
  5. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
  6. Relinquishment and Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
  7. Terminating Parental Rights in Texas on the Absent Parent
  8. Voluntarily Relinquishing Your Parental Rights in Texas
  9. What rights does a father have in Texas?
  10. Fathers' Rights: Children Born Out of Wedlock in Texas?

Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Texas Adoption Lawyers

The adoption process can be daunting at time. You don’t have to face it alone. The attorneys at The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC can help you navigate the process and create your perfect family. If you are in the greater Houston area and are interested in learning more, contact us today to speak directly with one of our adoption attorneys about your case.

Our Spring, Texas Adoption Lawyers are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Texas Adoption Cases in Spring, Texas or surrounding areas, including Harris County, including: Cypress, Klein, Humble, Tomball, the FM 1960 area, North Houston; and Montgomery County, including: Conroe and The Woodlands; as well as the surrounding counties of Fort Bend, Grimes, Waller, and Washington, contact us today to speak directly with one of our family law attorneys about your case.

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