Adoption in Texas
The "Texas Two-Step"
In Texas, adoption is actually a two-step process. First, the parental rights of the biological parents (or, in the case of a step-parent adoption, one of the parents) must be terminated. Once the termination is final, a formal adoption can occur.
Termination is a formal lawsuit that results in a final court order. The Family Code lists a number of different grounds for termination, and in order to secure a termination order one of those specific grounds must be proven. In a nutshell, the grounds boil down to these: either the parent agrees to the termination, or the parent must have committed one or more specific kinds of abuse or neglect. In either case, it must also be proven that the termination is in the best interest of the child.
Often we deal with cases where the mother claims she doesn't know who the father is, or where he is, or that he should have no rights because he has never been a part of the child's life. To be blunt, none of this matters. Such a man may not be a "father" in the eyes of the rest of the family, but if his DNA was involved in the conception he is a father in the eyes of the law and thus has parental rights. Before an adoption can proceed, his rights must be terminated.
If the mother is uncertain who the father is, DNA testing can be performed among the likely candidates to identify the true father. The Attorney General and private investigators can assist in locating a missing parent. If the mother truly has no clue who the father is, or if the missing parent cannot be located, procedures exist for proceeding with the termination. However, these procedures are time-consuming and expensive because they typically involve the appointment of one or more lawyers to represent not only the missing/unknown parent, but also the child. Usually the adoptive parents are required to pay the fees charged by these Court-appointed lawyers.
Effect of Termination
Once the termination order becomes final, whether after a full contested trial or with the parent's consent, the terminated parent generally has no further rights with respect to the child. There is one exception, however: an "open adoption." In an open adoption, the adoptive parents agree to specific rights that the biological parent may retain. Depending on the agreement of the parties, these rights can run the full spectrum from having only the right to receive an occasional photograph of the child to having very liberal visitation rights.
As a general rule you will not be eligible to adopt a child unless that child has resided with you in your home for at least six continuous months.
Before the adoption can be finalized, a number of items must be completed and filed with the Court, including:
- The results of a criminal history background check on each of the adoptive parents from the Department of Public Safety;
- A pre-adoptive report and a post-placement report prepared by a Court-approved investigator to ensure that the adoptive parents will be able to provide a suitable home for the child; and
- A "HSEGH" (health, social, educational and genetic history) report, also known as an "Adoptive Readiness Summary," to provide basic information about the background of the child and the biological parents.
There is no waiting period to finalize an adoption; the final hearing can be scheduled as soon as all the paperwork is done, subject to the schedules of the various parties and the Court.
Once the adoption is granted the Court will sign an Order granting parental rights to the adoptive parents, and changing the child's name. The Order can be used to obtain a new Social Security number for the child, as well as a new birth certificate reflecting the parental status of the adoptive parents.
Adoption files are routinely sealed by the Court to protect the privacy of the participants, although this may be unnecessary in certain "open adoptions." Nevertheless, the Department of State Health Services maintains a Central Adoption Registry to assist biological parents and adopted children in locating each other when they mutually desire to do so.
Although adoption can be an expensive and time-consuming process, there are certain tax benefits which you may wish to discuss with your tax professional. In addition, members of the United States Armed Forces and certain other families may be eligible for reimbursement of adoption-related expenses. Please check with your caseworker on your eligibility to participate in such programs.
Planning for a Change in Your Family
Adopting a child will cause a major change for any family. You should review your life, health, and disability insurance coverage. You may also find that you need to revise your estate plan by executing a new will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, declaration of guardian, or directive to physicians ("living will.") If you need advice on these matters, our estate plannning attorneys will be happy to assist you or provide you with a referral.
How To Get Started
For more details on the adoption process, please contact the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services.
Adoption is an extremely serious undertaking, and should be treated as such. Adopted children have typically suffered one or more traumatic events which have severely disrupted their lives, and above all they need a committed, loving and stable home. Once the adoption is granted, the child becomes yours in the eyes of the law just as if the child had been born to you, and there are no refunds or exchanges. If you firmly believe that you have the love in your heart to undertake this incredible responsibility and would like to consult with a Killeen attorney, we would welcome the opportunity to assist you.