Some cases in the world of family law are overall very positive for the participants involved. I think that the law in general, and family law more specifically, has a reputation as being negative in terms of the content involved in a typical case. While it's true that nobody looks forward to being involved in a family law case, the fact is that some cases show you can take lemons and make lemonade out of them. Searching for silver linings in difficult circumstances is what family law attorneys do best.
I think the quintessential feel-good family law case is an adoption. While the majority of most family law attorney's practice centers around child custody and adoption cases, attorneys in this field do have the opportunity to handle an adoption case here and there. From a personal standpoint, I always hope that each year we are fortunate enough to handle more and more adoption cases for families in our community. To me, adoptions show that the legal system, private adoption agencies, and our community's spirit of giving are all aligned. Given the difficult past year we have all had, I think we are all looking for circumstances in which there is good coordination between different groups in our society. Again, it pays to look for silver linings in grey clouds.
Most of us are familiar with what adoption looks like. We may not be aware of the specific laws that are a part of an adoption. We may not know of anyone who has been adopted or of a family who has adopted a child. However, we know from television, movies, and life in general that there are children who do not have parents or may need a second parent. That is where adoption serves a necessary role in our country. Adoption is the completion of a family, or at least the beginning part of a family becoming whole.
Maybe you have heard of a celebrity or celebrity-couple who has adopted children from overseas orphanages. I can think of a Hollywood power couple (now divorced) who seemed to adopt a new child every other month back in the early 2000s. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. We have seen movies whose plots revolve around a now-adult adopted child setting out on an adventure to locate his or her birthparents for any number of reasons. These are stories that tug at our heartstrings. As a father of three little kids, I can't help but put myself in the position of a parent who has given up their child for adoption and how difficult that must be. Even more so, I feel for the children who spend large portions of their childhood looking for a family to call their own.
Stepparent adoption in Texas: The basics
That brings us to the topic of today’s blog post. If you are reading this blog post and are thinking about adopting a stepchild then the preceding paragraph may leave you asking yourself how you fit into this whole equation. After all-you are not trying to find a child from an adoption agency to become part of your family. You already have a child that you are interested in bringing into your home as your child. If your spouse has a child with whom you share a close relationship the thought of adoption may have crossed your mind a time or two especially if that child has a second parent who is not a part of their life.
As a stepparent of a child, you meet the qualifications for filing for the adoption of him or her. The only other qualification to file a petition to adopt your step-child would be for your spouse (the parent of the child you wish to adopt) to join with you in the petition as your co-petitioner. Otherwise, nothing is stopping you from trying to adopt your stepchild. However, there are relational, emotional, and familial considerations that you need to sort out with your stepchild, their other parent, and your spouse before taking the steps necessary towards adoption.
The next logical question that you should be asking yourself is: where do you begin the process of adopting your step-child. I think most of us know that adoptions are a legal issue that would be heard in a court. Which court, though? Harris County is a big place. So are Fort Bend, Galveston, and Montgomery Counties, for that matter. Can you file a petition in a local justice of the peace court and be done with it?
The answer to that question is no. A family court would be the appropriate court to hear your adoption petition. Depending on the county in which you reside, the appropriate family court could either be a district court or a statutory court that has jurisdiction over family law cases like a county court at law or county court. A simple Google search should point you in the right direction as long as you know what county you are a resident of.
These are two essential pieces of information: who qualifies to adopt a stepchild and where does the case begin. Once you determine the answers to these questions I think the next place you need to go is in search of legal advice and counsel. Interviewing an attorney means following a few key steps. First, you will want to make sure that the attorney you are speaking to has experience working in family law. Many attorneys will tell you that they are ready to represent you in a case despite their having no experience having done so previously. There is nothing wrong with an inexperienced attorney attempting to learn a new area of the law. I wouldn't recommend being the person that this type of attorney "practices" on.
Next, you should determine whether or not you need to hire an attorney. Talk to the lawyer about their perspective on your life. If you are in a situation where the biological parent of your stepchild is voluntarily agreeing to step aside for you to adopt the child then you are in a completely different circumstance than a stepparent who is going to try and have the biological parent’s parental rights terminated against that parent’s will. The difference between the two scenarios will tell you whether or not you need an attorney.
This is where your case begins. Decide whether or not you need to hire a lawyer (odds are good that you do.) Once a lawyer has been hired work to provide him or her with all the information that he or she needs to go forward and file to adopt your stepchild. Filing a case is one thing, but knowing what to do to file is another. I would like to take some time at this point in our blog post and work with you on figuring out how to go about filing your adoption case in a Texas family court.
Beginning the process of filing for the adoption of your stepchild
Having an attorney to be able to walk you through the adoption is important. An adoption case can be emotionally difficult, and you need to have someone by your side to help you manage your expectations. While you have little context or experience to be able to provide observations of what happens in a case your attorney will have been through adoptions like yours to help you get through moments or experiences that are difficult.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the most important consideration to make in the context of an adoption case is whether or not your stepchild has a relationship with their other parent. Unless there has already been a trip to a court in which that parent has had their parental rights terminated you will first need to file a motion to terminate his or her parental rights. A child cannot have three parents from a legal perspective and so you will need to have the other parent taken out of the picture. The best way to do so is to file a petition to terminate the parent's parental rights. An Original Petition for Adoption is the case to file after the termination lawsuit.
To file a petition to adopt your stepchild you will need to pay some amount of money to do so. Depending on the county where you reside, that amount Of money could be around $50 or up to a few $100. What you can do is go online to your district or County clerk's website to view the filing fees for an adoption case in your County. There is a chance that you will be able to have your filing fees waived if you qualify as being indigent. Being on welfare, food stamps, or other government assistance is a good place to start if you are making an argument that you are indigent and unable to pay the filing fees associated with your adoption case. Paragraph
There will be two parties in your adoption case. You and your spouse we'll file as Co petitioners in the persons who have filed the original petition for adoption. The respondent to the adoption case will be the parent who you seek to have their parental rights terminated. if you are in a situation where the other parent has already had their parental rights terminated then you will not have a respondent at all. However, in most stepparent adoption cases, there will need to be a termination of the biological parent’s parental rights to move forward with your adoption case.
What are the main issues in a stepparent adoption case that are decided?
A stepparent adoption case must first answer whether or not a biological parent's printer rights will be terminated. If this initial question is reached and no parental rights are terminated then your adoption case will not move forward. If a judge does decide to terminate the parental rights of the biological parent then you would be able to move forward to become the adopted parent of your stepchild. At that stage, your child would be able to inherit from you upon your death, receive death benefits from Social Security, and have other benefits that are provided to your legal children under the law.
Keep in mind that Texas law states that your stepchild must live in your home with you for at least six months before the time you are asking the court to grant your adoption. There are some exceptions to this rule but having your stepchild in the home with you during this period is generally speaking a good idea. It will give the court a solid history and length of time to decide your suitability as a parent.
A court will look to many different factors when determining whether or not to grant your request to adopt your stepchild. As we have already talked about at length nearest child must have the parental rights of his or her other biological parent terminated. If this step cannot be accomplished, then none of the other factors in a stepparent adoption case will even be reached. The court will name an adoption evaluator to interview you, the child, your spouse, and any other adult who is relevant to the case to determine suitability. This person will most likely be chosen from a predetermined list provided by the court.
The court may also appoint an attorney solely to represent the interests of your stepchild and making decisions. The judge must make decisions regarding adoption based on what he or she believes to be in the best interest of your stepchild. This is the same standard that is used to determine children's issues in a divorce or child custody case. Since it is possible for your best interest to be different from those of your stepchild a court will oftentimes appoint an amicus or ad litem attorney to investigate your situation further and make recommendations to the court.
Background in criminal history checks are usually completed in a Texas adoption case. These background checks go into your criminal history, the criminal history of your stepchild's biological parents as well as an investigation into the home environment that you will be bringing your stepchild into. The state of Texas will have a social worker to initiate the steps necessary to complete these reports by gathering information. This is simply more information that a judge can utilize to make decisions about whether or not it is in the best interests of your stepchild for you to adopt him or her.
What are the final steps necessary to adopt your stepchild in Texas?
You should cooperate with any social worker from the state of Texas who will contact you regarding the information needed to complete the aforementioned reports. Sometimes the information that they seek is private and it may seem tedious to you to complete the evaluation. However, if you cooperate with this step and come prepared with a job history, a list of previous employers, and other basic information that will probably be requested you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle.
Next, be prepared for someone from the state of Texas to come into your home and complete a home study. Any adult or older child that lives with you will be interviewed and the findings of the evaluation will be made available to the family court judge. It is common for the social worker to also interview your stepchild depending on their age. Be prepared for the social worker to also come to your home and observe how you and your stepchild relate to one another in a home environment.
When all these steps are finally complete the court will schedule a hearing for you to go in speak to the judge. You, your spouse, your stepchild's biological parent, and any other person involved in the case will need to attend. The result of a stepparent adoption case is a court order that grants organize your petition for adoption. This final order is the last step you would need to take to adopt your stepchild. Once the document is entered in the court records your child's birth certificate will reflect that you are their legal parent.
A stepparent adoption case is not always straightforward but can be assisted with the help of an experienced family law attorney. Sometimes you will be able to speak to your stepchild's biological parent before the case to determine whether or not he or she is willing to have their parental rights voluntarily terminated. This is a very sensitive subject and getting advice from an attorney will be a good place for you to start.
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 the circumstances involved in your family law matter.