You may have heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While it is true that many people may contribute in a child's life, the law recognizes only one set of parents. Adoption is the process that makes an adult who is not a child’s biological parent his or her legal parent. Adoption is a complex legal matter that is based on the best interests of the child involved. This process can go astray at many junctures, so having the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Round Rock adoption lawyer is the best path forward.
Adoption vs. Guardianship
Texas courts turn to suits affecting parent-child relationship (SAPCR) to address custody concerns, including awarding guardianship to someone who is not the biological parent of the child in question. Guardianship can afford a wide range of rights that are similar to those parents have, but it only includes those rights listed by the court in the case at hand.
Alternatively, adopting a child means becoming a legal parent and taking on all the rights and responsibilities that biological parents have. When a child is adopted, his or her biological parents’ legal rights are permanently severed.
A primary distinction between guardianship and adoption is the automatic rights of inheritance that children have in relation to their legal parents, which does not extend to the relationship between children and their guardians. Finally, being a child’s guardian does not mean that the child doesn’t have legal parents with custody or visitation rights of their own.
Common Adoption Scenarios
A child can be adopted in specific situations that fall into several basic categories. A skilled Round Rock family lawyer can help you navigate any of these adoption scenarios.
The Parents’ Rights Have Been Terminated
In the State of Texas, a child can only be adopted if both of his or her parents have had their legal rights terminated. Often, this result is achieved when a suit to terminate the rights of one or both parents is filed in conjunction with the adoption case. The termination of parental rights can be either voluntary or involuntary.
The Adoption Is a Stepparent Adoption
A stepparent can become the second legal parent of a partner’s child through adoption. However, the child’s other biological parent must relinquish his or her own legal rights or have them removed involuntarily. In stepparent adoptions, the spouse or partner of the adopting stepparent must join the case as a petitioner.
The Adoption Is a Matter of Parental Consent
When a child is at least two years old and one parent’s parental rights have been terminated, the other can consent to adoption by someone to whom one of the following relationships applies:
A former stepparent of the child
The child’s managing conservator
Someone who had actual care, possession, and control of the child for at least the six months prior
Absent Parental Consent
There are also instances when an adult can adopt a child without a parent’s consent, but both the following terms must apply:
One of the parent’s rights have been terminated.
The person who wants to adopt is a former stepparent of the child who has filled a managing conservator role – having actual care, possession, and control of the child – for at least a year prior to the adoption filing.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
When at least one of a child’s parents refuses to terminate parental rights, adoption isn’t possible without involuntary termination, which is a high legal bar. Texas courts will only terminate a parent’s rights when there is clear and convincing evidence that doing so is in the best interest of the children and is supported by one of the following compelling legal reasons:
The parent or parents abandoned the child or failed to support him or her.
The parent or parents engaged in criminal conduct.
The parent or parents are otherwise unfit to parent.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
The voluntary termination of parental rights is called relinquishment. A parent can file his or her own suit to relinquish parental rights. Generally, however, the court must rule that the relinquishment is in the child’s best interests.
Even when a parent signs an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment – or a purported father signs an affidavit waiving interest in the child – the court must order the termination of parental rights. The legal documents alone do not suffice.
Work closely with a Round Rock family lawyer to help you navigate this complicated legal process
The Child’s Best Interests
When Texas courts make primary decisions about children, including decisions about adoption, they take best interest factors like the following into careful consideration:
The child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs, including any special needs
The potential caregiver’s ability to address the child’s needs
The stability of the child’s current home
Any acts or omissions on the part of the child’s parent or parents that suggest an unhealthy parent-child relationship
The child’s preference on the matter – if he or she is considered mature enough and old enough to weigh in
The Adoption Process
The Information Meeting
To begin, you’ll need to attend an information meeting to discuss the requirements and scope of becoming either an adoptive or foster parent.
Before you can get started with the process, you must meet several basic requirements:
You must be at least 21 years old, must be a reasonably mature adult, and must be financially stable.
You must complete the application, which requires sharing information about your background and lifestyle.
You must provide references that include both relatives and nonrelatives.
You must show proof of marriage or divorce, if applicable.
You must agree to a home study in which all household members are interviewed.
You and every adult in your household must submit to a complete criminal history background check and a check regarding abuse and neglect.
You’ll also need to attend free training to learn more about the issues and concerns that children who’ve been abused or neglected often experience.
The Preparation and Selection Process
If you meet all the requirements, the next step is meeting with a staff member at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) for an adoption assessment.
Next comes the training requirement, which involves the National Training and Development Curriculum (NTDC). The aim is to provide you with valuable information and bolster your confidence regarding the many challenges of adopting or fostering a child. The ultimate goal is ensuring that you’re up to the immense commitment involved.
The 19-hour training course touches on all the following primary concerns:
The effects of abuse and neglect
The effects of trauma on children and families
Loss and grief
The Adoption Evaluation
In order to adopt in the State of Texas, the prospective adoptive parents must undergo a court-ordered assessment that is designed to evaluate their ability to provide their adoptive child with a safe, nurturing, and stable home. The evaluation is conducted by either a licensed social worker or counselor called an adoption evaluator, and the process includes all the following steps:
Interviews with the prospective parents as well as with others who have regular contact with the family
The adoption evaluation process is thorough, and once completed, the evaluator submits a report to the court, which the court uses to make its final adoption determination.
Adopting a Family Member
When a child’s parents can’t provide the care he or she needs, family members sometimes step in. This arrangement is often referred to as kinship adoption, and it allows families to foster familial bonds in adverse situations. Common reasons for adoption by a family member include the following situations:
The parents are incarcerated.
The parents have been deemed unfit to provide the child with necessary care.
The parents have passed.
While relatives often step in to help, they don’t have full legal rights unless they proceed with adoption. These rights include making medical decisions on behalf of the child and enrolling him or her in school.
Adopting a family member is an emotional journey that you shouldn’t navigate on your own. Work closely with a compassionate Round Rock lawyer for skilled support throughout the adoption process.
What Is the Family Adoption Process?
The adoption process for family members follows the same basic steps as any other adoption. While the legalities are no less rigorous, Texas courts recognize that kinship adoptions often support the best interests of the involved children and take the existing relationship into careful consideration.
How Long Does It Take to Adopt a Family Member?
The process for adopting a family member is not expedited, which means that it can take from 6 to 18 months – or longer. However, seeking a kinship adoption can make eventual court approval more likely.
When Foster Parents Adopt
Many parents who begin as foster parents go on to adopt. The goal of fostering is generally to help reunify the child with his or her biological parent or parents. When this isn’t possible, fostering generally focuses on placement with a relative.
However, when termination of parental rights is in order, the child’s foster parents are offered the first opportunity to adopt. When parents receive dual certification as both foster and adoptive parents, it can facilitate the placement process, reduce the upheaval in the child’s life, and allow deep and loving parent-child relationships to evolve more organically.
Foster Care Requirements
Foster parents face specific requirements intended to ensure that the home environment they offer is safe and nurturing:
Having adequate sleeping space for everyone in the home
Having no more than six children in the home, which includes their own biological and adoptive children as well as any for whom they provide daycare
Agreeing not to engage in physical discipline
Vaccinating all pets
Allowing fire, health, and safety inspections of the home
Maintaining certification in First Aid and CPR
Attending at least 20 hours of training annually
The Responsibilities of Foster Parents
Foster parents are called upon to provide for their foster children in all of the following ways:
Provide them with daily care, nurture them, and teach them life skills
Advocate for them in their schools and communities
Keep their caseworkers informed regarding how well they are adjusting and any problems they may be experiencing
Assist their caseworkers to reunify the children with their birth parents
Model healthy parenting for their birth parents
How Long Does It Take to Adopt from Foster Care?
While being a foster parent can make it easier for you to adopt your foster child, it’s important to recognize that the fostering process is designed to reunite biological families. In other words, the court will exhaust all efforts to place foster children safely back in the care of their biological parents first. As such, the foster-to-adoption process in the state generally takes about 6 to 18 months and can take longer.
Power of Attorney Adoption
Having power of attorney (POA) over someone is similar to being a guardian, but the person or his or her parents must assign the power of attorney, while the court must assign guardianship. Having POA over a child allows you to take on many of the responsibilities that parents do, but it falls short of affording you the full suite of parental rights and responsibilities.
The process of segueing from power of attorney to adoption follows the same path as any other adoption, but successfully serving as a child’s POA can support your bid for adoption.
Seek the Legal Guidance of an Experienced Round Rock Adoptions Lawyer Today
Brett Pritchard is a compassionate adoption attorney at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Round Rock, Texas. Our adoption lawyers offer FREE consultations designed to help clients like you proceed effectively and efficiently toward successful adoptions.