There are two (2) steps to secure an adoption in Texas:
(1) the court must terminate the birth parents’ rights to the child; and
(2) the adoption must be approved by the court.
What is the effect of a court order terminating a parent’s rights? Termination of parental rights means a parent is no longer considered a legal parent to the child. The parent will no longer have any legal rights, duties or responsibilities to the child and the child may be adopted by someone else. A termination order is normally considered final and cannot be changed. When parental rights are terminated, the court must make a decision about whether the child’s rights to inherit from the parent are also terminated. Some judges refuse to terminate the child’s rights to inherit from the parent, since they want the child to be able to share in the wealth in case the terminated parent wins the lottery.
How are parental rights terminated? The termination of parental rights may happen with the agreement of each parent, or by a court finding it is in the best interest of the child to terminate one or both of the parent’s rights.
How do the biological parents indicate an agreement? Birth parents, both father and mother, generally must sign forms (called relinquishments of rights) indicating their desire to place a child for adoption before a court will terminate their interests. The relinquishment must be freely and voluntarily signed after the child is at least forty-eight (48) hours old. Properly signed relinquishments generally cannot be revoked for sixty (60) days. Within this sixty (60) day period, the court generally decides whether to terminate parental rights. A decision to terminate is, except in very unusual situations, permanent.
What if there is no agreement by one or both of the biological parents? The court will only terminate a parent’s rights if the court finds the termination and adoption to be in the best interest of the child. An attorney will be appointed, called an Amicus Attorney, to investigate whether the termination would be in the best interest of the child. The court generally only grants an involuntary termination when a biological parent has consistently not participated in the child’s life and has provided little or no support and there is evidence that a fit and stable person in the child’s life is willing to adopt, or the biological parent has been determined unfit to provide for the care of the child due to abuse or neglect.
What if the birth father cannot be located? If the location or identity of the birth father is unknown, he is nonetheless entitled to notice of the proceedings, and you must show the court that you have diligently tried to find him. He can be served with notice of the termination proceeding by publication of notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. The court may require publication in the county where the child was born and/or the county of the birth father’s last known residence. The rules for notice by publication are complex and must be strictly followed. Once notice is considered complete, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the birth father.
What actions must be taken before the court will grant an adoption? The court will require the report of a social study performed in the home of the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents must also obtain a Texas Criminal History Report. Courts also generally require that the child live in the home for six (6) months before granting an adoption. This six (6) month requirement can be waived only if the court finds “good cause.” If the adoption is by someone other than a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or stepparent, the court also requires a report to be compiled on the available health, social, educational, and genetic history of the child to be adopted.
What if the child is an American Indian (“Native American”)? If the child is an American Indian, very powerful federal law called the Indian Child Welfare Act will apply and the adoptive parents must comply with all terms of this law. The Indian Child Welfare Act is very complicated and if you suspect the child may have an American Indian heritage, you will want to seek legal counsel to ensure the requirements of the act are met. Normally, permission of the tribe must be given before an adoption under this act may be approved.
What if the adoptive parents and the child reside in different states? If the adoptive parents and child are not living in the same state, they must comply with the interstate compact law. The interstate compact office of each state regulates the movement of children from state to state for purposes of adoption. Failure to comply with these laws before removing a child from the state of Texas is a criminal offense.
Can the child’s name be changed at the time of adoption? Yes. The name of the child may be changed in the order if requested. A new birth certificate will be issued (for a fee), with the child’s new name.
Can the validity of an adoption order be attacked? Generally, the validity of an adoption order is not subject to attack after six (6) months after the date the order was signed.
What are the rights of the adoptive parent if the parents split up or divorce? The adoptive parent has the same legal rights as a parent who gave birth to a child. The adoptive parent can get custody of the child, or may have to pay child support for the child.
This article is not intended to be legal advice and is not a substitute for legal representation by an attorney. You are encouraged to seek the advice of your own attorney to answer any specific legal questions you may have.