Stepparent Adoptions: The Basics

The most common adoption that we encounter is that of a stepparent.  In many cases, the stepparent has substituted for years as the child’s biological parent that has been absent from their life.  That is, the stepparent cares for the child, provides for the child, consoles the child, and does anything that a “normal” parent would do for their child.  Thus, it is understandable when so many couples come into our office and want to make it official.

To begin this type of proceeding, the parent who is married to the stepparent would petition the court for the termination and adoption and the stepparent would join in that petition.  The child must have lived with the parties for at least 6 months before you can file.  You must have the biological parent whom you are seeking termination on served.  In many cases, the biological parent wants to voluntarily relinquish their rights.  If this is the case, they would sign an affidavit voluntarily relinquishing their rights and consenting to the stepparent adopting the child.  The affidavit would be filed with the court and then the case would basically proceed without that party.  This is, as you can imagine, the easiest way to accomplish the stepparent adoption.

If the other side is not in agreement, then you must seek an involuntary termination which can be very difficult.  The grounds for an involuntary termination are contained in Texas Family Code Chapter 161 and this is a complete list.  Meaning, if it is not on the list, then it is not grounds for involuntary termination.  So, if you have an order and the other parent is not exercising their ordered visitation or not paying child support as ordered, most likely this will not be enough.  While these are arguably contained in the list, you still have a court order that you could enforce rather than say, “Okay, they are not doing what they should and so their chance is over.”  In fact, many courts would wonder why you would not seek enforcement rather than a termination.  Most courts if presented with this type of situation would give the other parent a chance to have involvement in the child’s life.  Also, as in all family law cases, even if the parent has done one or more of the things on the list, it must still be in the best interest of the child that the court terminates that parent’s rights to the child.

Despite voluntary or involuntary relinquishment, there are additional requirements in these types of cases.  For instance, the Court will appoint an attorney ad litem for the child to ensure that the termination and the adoption are in the best interest of the child.  As well, the Texas Family Code requires that a preadoptive social study be completed.  A court appointed social worker will come into the home of the petitioning couple and will investigate the couple’s background, living arrangements, as well as interview the child.  If the parent on whom you are seeking a termination contests the case, the social worker will also investigate that parent and their home.  Once completed, the social worker will report back to the Court in writing on whether he or she feels that this adoption would be in the best interest of the child.  Also, the stepparent will have to complete the criminal history report—he or she will get a fingerprint card for the purposes of the adoption and will have to send to the Texas Department of Public Safety.  Texas Department of Public Safety will then directly send the criminal history report to the court in which the case is filed.

Contact your family law attorney at Guest & Gray, P.C. to discuss any additional questions you might have regarding your termination and adoption.