Although family law can be full of painful and difficult moments, one of the greatest joys of family law is watching a family come to completion through the adoption process. This can be a situation where a child is adopted by two parents who are not biologically the child’s parents, or it can happen through a stepparent adoption. In that case – the focus of this blog – a stepparent steps in to become a legal parent and is granted the same rights and duties of a biological parent.
The process for adoption contains multiple steps, and it is always wise to consult with an attorney on the process as each step can have long-term legal consequences if not followed correctly.
Who Can Adopt?
Although it seems obvious, it is necessary to be clear that a stepparent wishing to adopt a stepchild must be married to the child’s other parent. If, for example, stepfather wishes to adopt, then he must be married to the child’s mother. An adoption cannot be done if the parties are not yet married or if they are wishing to handle this after a divorce.
Who Can be Adopted?
For a child to be adopted, the child must be “free for adoption”, meaning that the rights of the biological parent must be terminated. If the biological parent agrees to freely relinquish their parental rights, then the process is rather simple and the Court can – in the same hearing – both terminate the rights of the biological parent and then name the stepparent as the new parent.
If, however, a biological parent does not wish to terminate their parental rights, then it is the responsibility of the stepparent to file a suit to terminate those rights, alleging one of the 20 grounds for involuntary termination provided in the Texas Family Code. If the Court finds that the stepparent has proven one or more of those grounds for termination and also proven that such termination is in the best interest of the child, then the Court will involuntarily terminate the biological parent’s rights, freeing the child for adoption.
Generally speaking, when a parent freely relinquishes their parental rights, the suit for termination and adoption are combined and heard at one time. When, however, there is not an agreement and the Court holds a contested hearing on involuntary termination, the Court will generally hear the adoption at a subsequent date and time.
Once it is known if the child will be free for adoption, then the Court will order a social study to be performed to look into the home and the circumstances of the family. A licensed professional will have an opportunity to visit with the parents and the child, and will visit their home and ensure it is adequate for the child.
Additionally, a criminal background check will be performed on the stepparent, and the person performing the social study will have an opportunity to review the results.
During this same time, the Court may appoint an amicus attorney to represent the child’s best interests. Some Courts do not require an amicus attorney, depending on the facts of the case, and other Courts routinely require one. If one is appointed, they will review all the pleadings, visit with the child and the family, and advise the Court on whether such adoption is in the child’s best interest.
Finalizing the Adoption
Once the social study and criminal background check have been completed, a final hearing can be set so that the adoption can be finalized. The Court is always excited about such hearings and will generally do their best to make the day special for the family.
The new family relationship is now official, and the child will receive a new birth certificate which will reflect their adopted parent and birth parent, as well as their new name. The relationship that has existed prior to this point will now be legally and officially recognized.
Do you want to adopt your stepchild but aren’t sure where to begin? Talk with The Hollwarth Law Firm today to get started toward this important step in uniting your family.