Adopting a child is not something you can do quickly and is in fact a three part legal process consisting of:
Keep reading for a step-by-step blueprint of the Adoption Process!
You cannot move forward in an adoption proceeding without some sort of paternity acknowledgement taking place (read more on Paternity here).
Termination of Parental Rights
Another component of adoption is the termination of someone's parental rights, unless that parent is deceased. A person's parental rights may be terminated either (1) voluntarily; or (2) involuntarily.
(1) Voluntary = Written Agreement
A parent can voluntarily agree to give up parental rights, which can be accomplished through a legally binding agreement, which would then be presented in court at a termination hearing. A court must still issue an official order to severe the parental ties to the child, but if a judge sees that the parent had agreed to give up all rights, the court will consider this in favor of terminating parental rights.
(2) Involuntary = Going to Court
If a parent refuses to give up rights, then a court will have to decide.
A judge may terminate both custodial and legal parental rights if the petitioner can prove that a parent is unfit, meaning unable or unwilling to provide for his or her child’s care and safety.
The grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights vary from state to state, but the most common grounds are:
the parent abandoned the child (failed to support or maintain contact with the child)
severe or chronic abuse or neglect of the child
severe or chronic abuse of other children in the household
long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent
long-term drug or alcohol-induced incapacity of the parent
the parent was convicted of murdering the child’s other parent
the parent surrendered the child or agreed in writing to terminate parental rights
(Finally!) The Adoption Process
An adoption case can be started at the same time as the termination case so as not to waste anymore time, but the adoption process has it's own requirements as well:
The following is a step-by-step blueprint of what the "perfect" adoption process would look like:
1. File the Petition for Termination and Adoption. This will be combined with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) Affidavit and, if applicable, the Affidavit of Relinquishment of Parental Rights. This is when Paternity is brought up for the first time.
2. Request Service. But only if the biological parent(s) have not signed the Relinquishment of Parental Rights or a Waiver Of Service or their whereabouts are unknown.
3. Ad Litem Appointed. What’s called an “ad litem” will be appointed to your case, essentially to ensure that the adoption is in the best interest of the child(ren). Ad Litems are appointed to act in the termination/adoption suit on behalf of a child or other person who is not considered capable of representing themselves.
4. Obtain Medical Record & GESH Report. Obtain both the Medical Report and Genetic, Educational, & Social History Report from the Other Parent. These forms are for the child in the future, should they wish to see if they have any genetic illnesses or diseases, educational or social delays, etc. that develop from the parent no longer in contact with the child.
5. Obtain fingerprints from the Texas Department of Public Safety. This one is annoying, but it is a state requirement for all adopting parties.
6. Obtain a Social Study from one of the Social Study evaluators in your County. This will take approximately six to eight weeks, but could be longer depending on your County and the evaluator’s schedule.
7. Prepare the Decree to Terminate & Grant Adoption and the Statement of Evidence. The first part of the Decree is the termination, either by relinquishment or by other grounds; the second part is the adoption. A Statement of Evidence is usually required by most Courts to prove-up the evidence required for an adoption by both parties.
8. Attend the Termination & Adoption Hearing. The Termination portion and the Adoption portion can be held as separate hearings or they may be held together - one after the other; this all depends on the specific circumstances of the adoption. Paternity will be established at this stage, but can also be terminated simultaneously.
9. Order a certified copy of the Decree immediately following the final hearing. If you don’t request a certified copy (which will be required to change the child(ren)’s names) within a week, the case will be sealed and you’ll have to Petition the Court to officially “unseal” the case again in order to get a copy.
10. Make any name changes necessary. Take the Certified Copy of the Adoption Decree, which states the name changes of the child(ren), and head on over to the Department of Public Safety to get a new driver’s license, the Social Security Administration to get a new Social Security Card issued and the Department of State to have a new passport issued in your child(ren)’s new name.
11. Celebrate!! Adoption is a long and arduous process - it’s not for the weak. Make sure to celebrate this momentous occasion with your new family!!
P.S. - Check out the Two Types of Adoption blog post we wrote to understand what type of adoption you are looking for. This will help your attorney during the intake process.
These issues can be quite difficult to handle on your own due to the legal complexity and emotionally-charged nature of the proceedings. It’s best to consult with an experienced family law or adoption attorney in your area.