In order to adopt a child, it is a requirement that the child’s legal parents either be deceased or have their parental rights terminated before the adoption application be considered. There are two ways to go about terminating a parent’s parental rights: either the parent will voluntarily agree to the termination of their parental rights or a judge will involuntarily terminate their parental rights after a trial is held. If you are interested in adopting a child in Texas you should stay with us today as we go through subject matter related to this topic.
Voluntary termination of parental rights
Under the Texas Family Code, a person can agree to terminate their parental rights. It is not uncommon for a parent to file a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship in which he or she attempts to terminate their own parental rights. In order to be successful, whether the suit is brought by you or by the parent him or herself, a judge would need to find that the termination of the parent’s parental rights is in the best interests of the child.
A court can terminate a parent’s parental right on a voluntary basis if the parent has signed an affidavit that voluntarily relinquishes their parental rights. Another option that could be in play for your case would be that an alleged father (a man who has not legally been found to be the father of the child in question) could sign an affidavit waiving his interest in the child.
One question that I will frequently receive in regard to this subject is whether or not a judge has to get involved if everyone agrees that termination and then adoption is the best course of action. Let me provide you with an example to help illustrate what I am talking about. Suppose that you and your spouse are the biological uncle and aunt to a young girl. Your sister gave birth to the child about four years ago. The child is not doing well in the home of your sister and her boyfriend. As such, your sister and her boyfriend came to you and your spouse a few months ago and stated that they are in over their heads and want to relinquish their parental rights. What’s more- they asked if you and your spouse would be interested in adopting the child.
You respond that you all would absolutely be interested in adopting and raising the child as your own daughter. Now, you have finally seen fit to meet with an attorney to discuss this subject in greater detail. The four of you march into the Law Office of Bryan Fagan with the idea that a lawyer could simply draw up some paperwork and file it in court. A few days later, you imagine, a judge could happily sign and return the paperwork completing the "transaction" that I laid out in the previous paragraph. No problem, right?
The important thing to keep in mind here is that even if the termination petition and adoption petition and orders were drafted and filed correctly, a judge will still need to weigh in on the situation. A home study of your home, a criminal background check, and other elements of due diligence will have to be performed before you can receive the go-ahead to adopt the child. As I mentioned earlier, a judge will also have to determine that it is in thebest interests of the child for your sister and her boyfriend's parental rights to be terminated.
Bottom line: the courts will get involved no matter the circumstances.
Involuntary termination of parental rights
In order to terminate a person's parental rights without their consent, a court will need to meet a very high legal standard. Take the example I provided you all within the section prior to this one. Let's change one of the elements: your sister and her boyfriend do not want to terminate their parental rights. Now you and your wife have to file a contested parental rights termination case before you can even address the adoption issue.
Clear and convincing evidence (one of the higher legal standards available under American law) needs to be found that that termination is in the best interests of the child. This is not easy. It is not a good public policy for it to be super-easy to terminate a parent's parental rights. If it were, CPS or any concerned citizen could theoretically terminate a parent's rights over facts and circumstances that are questionable at best.
A judge has a limited set of reasons as to why a parent's rights could be terminated. Abandonment, a failure to financially support the child, endangerment of the child, the parent is engaged in criminal conduct and a determination that the parent is otherwise unfit are the grounds for involuntary termination in Texas. The last round, being found to be otherwise unfit, is basically a catch-all if the facts don't lead a judge to determine that any of the prior three grounds are met.
What is in the best interests of the child?
I have used the phrase "best interests of the child" a few times already in this blog post. We can all guess what it might mean, but the law in Texas actually provides us with what a judge must consider when deciding this subject. In any family law case where children are an issue, the best interests of the child standard are utilized by judges when it comes to making decisions that have been brought before it.
In order to make a decision as to what is in the best interests of a child the court will usually look to the following factors: the emotional and physical needs of the child, the parental abilities of the parties involved in the case, the stability of each family home, the future plans for the child, the acts and omissions of the parents in terms of their decision making and the defenses available for these acts and omissions.
In some situations, the wants and desires of the child are considered by a judge, but not always. If a child is over the age of 12 it is typical for a judge to meet with and talk to a child if one of the parties asks for this to occur or if the judge simply wants to do so. Keep in mind that a judge is not an adolescent counselor. He or she is going to be first and foremost concerned with the child’s safety. Once the judge feels good after the safety and welfare of the child, he may look to the educational opportunities and the structure of the home when making a decision. A ways down their list of priorities will be the desires of the child.
What to expect when you are attempting to adopt a child in Texas
An adoption case is long. You will be required to undergo a number of studies and have reports created as a result of the findings contained in those studies. You should hope that the result of those studies is that a report will be issued showing a judge that it is in the child’s best interests to transfer parental rights from the biological parents to you and your spouse. You will receive a copy of these reports as will the child’s biological parents.
Expect that personal interviews will be conducted of you and your spouse, as well as of the child you seek to adopt. Next, an evaluation will be undertaken regarding the home environment where your child is likely to reside. Are there conditions in your home that need to be repaired? What sort of safety hazards are apparent? How do you and your spouse cohabitate? Do you get along? What about your children? Are they agreeable or do they have behavioral issues? These questions will need to be answered first.
The child that you seek to adopt will need to be observed in multiple environments in order to get a full-fledged idea on how he reacts to various stimuli. In that same vein, the child's relationship with you and your spouse will need to be closely looked at as well. Since both of you will be adopting the child is not sufficient that one of you have a good relationship with the child while the other does not. Both of you will need to show that you are committed, loving parents.
Finally, a detailed criminal background search will be conducted in order to review past incidents in your life that could be concerning to the judge. Not only will you and your spouse be looked at but any member of your home, whether an adult or a minor will have their criminal backgrounds looked into.
How will a final decision be reached in the case?
Ultimately, the judge's main concern will need to be whether or not its decision is in the best interests of your child. Testimony will be taken from you, your spouse, the child's biological parents as well as any other person involved in your lives. The reports that I mentioned earlier will be looked into by the judge as well as by you and your attorney. What is contained in the reports may have as much of an impact on your case as any other single factor?
Adoptions, like all family law cases, are extremely fact specific. The law contained in the Texas Family Code will guide the judge, and he will be bound to go by the letter of the law. However, the letter of the law is quite vague in many instances and leaves the judge a great deal of latitude when it comes to making his or her own decision about what is right for your case. You saw earlier when we went through what it means for a decision to be in the best interests of the child, how the subject interpretation of judge based on the facts of your case could sway the proceedings a great deal. The state of Texas places a great deal of trust in the decision-making abilities and experience of family court judges. It is very difficult to give you an assessment of what will happen in your case unless you are able to provide someone with the exact fact patterns and circumstances that are affecting you and your family.
That is where seeking legal advice comes into play. An experienced family law attorney, someone who has handled adoption cases and knows how judges react to a variety of factual situations, is a great resource for you to utilize as you plan your method of attacking the case. Do not make assumptions about your case based on what other people have told you or what you have read in an obscure article from the internet (even this one). Go talk to a licensed family law attorney about your circumstances and you will receive advice that is not based on theory but in the actual facts that you are presenting to the lawyer.
Questions about adoption in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we covered today or yesterday regarding adoption, please do not hesitate to contact theLaw Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys work with clients just like you to accomplish their goals in the field of family law every single day. You will not find a group of attorneys that offer a better combination of professionalism, candor, advocacy, experience and commitment than those with our office.
We take pride in representing our neighbors in their family law cases across southeast Texas. From Baytown to Dayton, on up to Conroe and over to Katy, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is committed to providing our clients with the best in family law representation. Reach out to us today to speak with one of our licensed family law attorneys at no charge to you.
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The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding CPS, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX CPS defenseLawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our CPS defenselawyers in Houston TX 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. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles CPS defense cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.