Adoption Law in Texas
Adoption is one of the most rewarding events in a family lawyer’s life. However, the satisfaction the lawyer feels completing an adoption is nothing compared to the emotional response of the adopting parents and children. Regardless of whether it is a private placement adoption, an agency adoption, or step-parent adoption, the sense of accomplishment and emotional charge is the same.Adoption, like other family law matters is governed by the Texas Family code, regardless of the type of adoption. The most relevant portions of Texas Family Code Chapter 162 can be found here.
Whether you are seeking to adopt a child through a family member, or perhaps adopt a step-child, Reeves Law Firm is available to assist yyou in creating a family. Give us a call at 972-596-4000.
Agency Adoption is what most people consider the “traditional route”. A couple who want to adopt submit an application, they are subjected to background checks, and put on a waiting list. The agency matches the couple’s desires with the children that are available, the children’s needs, etc and when a match is made the couple are notified and the legal proceedings begin. Agency adoption is extremely expensive and the wait for a healthy infant child can be painfully long. In recent years, the cost and wait have led couples to seek international adoptions which occur using an agency that has connections to orphanages and hospitals in foreign countries. Russia and Ukraine have been primary countries for international adoptions in the recent years and this is where Reeves Law Firm can really help. Olha Reeves is a native speaker of Ukarainian and Russian languages with family in both countries. Not only can we assist with international placement, seeking confirmation in the US of the adoption/placement Olha can and does offer language lessons for the chidlren (Englis as a Second Language) and to the parents in the child’s native language to help with the transition and cultural exchange.
Private Adoption takes place when a couple knows a mother who desires to place her child for adoption – sometimes but not always before the child is born – and the parties agree that the mother will surrender her rights upon birth to the adoptive family. Private adoptions have at the core, the benefit of knowing the child is coming, being at the hospital when he/she is born, and in many cases, it is faster. The drawback is that the adoptive couple has to find the child, there is no registry or waiting list. Generally speaking, it is a matter of opportunity and many private adoptions involve parties that had not previously considered adoption. Though there are couples who desire a child so much they are on the agency wait list and they continue to actively seek out private placement by making it known to friends and family, they are interested and want to know of any private placement if one is known.
The most common form of adoption is family placement or what I call Stepparent Adoption. Stepparent adoption is a one sided adoption, usually accomplished when one parent is absent from the child’s life. It is rather simple to consider this in the context of a common scenario – Mom and Dad are divorced (or were never married), Mom has primary custody and Dad has little or nothing to do with the child. Mom remarries and step-dad is for all intents and purposes, the “daddy”. In order for step-dad to adopt, the biological father must surrender his rights or have those rights terminated by law. RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS GO HAND IN HAND. Please note, if biological father’s rights are terminated, his obligation to support the child also terminate. The consideration here is that a child can have only one father and one mother. In order for step-dad to become the legal father, the biological father must either stand aside or be pushed aside and being “aside” in this context means to become a legal stranger. The child will always carry the biological parent’s DNA, but once rights are terminated, the former parent has no legal rights and no legal obligations where the child is concerned.
Why do a step-parent adoption: First, at Reeves Law Firm, we understand that filing for a stepparent adoption is an extremely important decision. It can be stressful and the process can seem overwhelming. That is why we are here, to make this as simple and legally possible so that you can focus on the joyful portion of the adoption, becoming a parent. The more important issue to consider, is the why not? If you are a stepparent with the type of relationship that would cause you to read this information, you want that relationship to be more than just a collateral benefit of being married to the child’s biological parent. Stepparent adoption is a legal commitment, it is the equivalent of getting married, telling the world and the child you are there and want to remain. I do not mean to reduce being a stepparent to the equivalent of living with someone with no intent to marry them, but it is legally the same. The civil commitment, the union, the ceremony is important in society – and in adoption, it gives the child rights: the right to inherit from you, the right to be called your child, the benefit of knowing you are not just a father (or mother) but you are “Daddy” (or “Mommy”), and the right to be recognized under law as your child. Your rights are the reciprocal – the right to make decisions for the child, to be and do everything a biological parent could do.
The Adoption Process
In Texas, the person filing for adoption is referred to as the “Petitioner” and is generally joined by his/her spouse, even if that spouse is a natural parent of the child. The Petition (the legal document that asks the court to terminate the biological parent if necessary and grant the adoption) states your name, relationship to the child, the child’s name and identity, gives all the legal details necessary for the Court to know what you want. The Petition starts the process.
Most stepparent adoptions occur when the absent natural parent is deceased, unknown, or simply absent from the child’s life. However, in order for the adoption to occur, the natural parent’s rights must be terminated first. Termination can without consent under certain circumstances, the most common being the parent is absent and has abanoned the child by failing to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child or has left the child without any viable means of financial support. The Texas Family code sets out 16 different grounds for termination but at the end of the day, they all boil down to three main categories: (1) abandonment; (2) endangering the child’s emotional or physical development; or (3) voluntarily relinquishing rights to the child. Important to note, for the purposes of this discussion, abandonment includes going to prison.
What you need to know is this: if the other parent has regular contact with the child (or at least attempts to have contact) and pays his/her child support you cannot force a termination and you cannot complete a stepparent adoption without the termination. In other words, “I want my new spouse to adopt my kids so my ex-spouse cannot see them” is not a viable legal argument. You can try it – my firm will not represent you if you do – and you will be tossed out of court minus a lot of money and time.
It is important to make every attempt to get the consent of the other parent in your Texas stepparent adoption, but there are times when you are unable to get that person’s consent. This is usually because the whereabouts of the other parent is unknown. If you are unable to get the consent of the other parent, you can still complete the adoption,as long as the grounds outlined in Texas law, §161.001 and/or §161.002 have been met, which are as follows:
• The absent parent has voluntarily left the child alone or in the possession of another without providing adequate support for the child, and remained away for a period of at least six (6) months.
• The termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child.
• After being served with citation, the alleged father does not respond by timely filing an admission of paternity or a counterclaim for paternity under Chapter 160.
It is not required to terminate parental rights of a parent who is deceased. But it is necessary to terminate a parent who is in prison. Finally, termination is not a matter taken lightly, so before you start planing, contact us and set an appointment, we would be happy to get to know you and give you specific advice about your adoption process.
Texas Family Code – Chapter 162 – Adoption
TEXAS FAMILY CODETITLE 5. THE PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP ANDTHE SUIT AFFECTING THE PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPCHAPTER 162. ADOPTION SUBCHAPTER A. ADOPTION OF A CHILD Sec. 162.001. ...