Terminations and Adoptions
One of the most commonly misunderstood sections of the Texas Family Code deals with the termination of paternity rights. Many people think they can simply “give up their rights” in order to avoid their obligation of ongoing support for a child. While there is a legal means to voluntarily relinquish paternity rights to a child, a court is not likely to approve the termination simply for a person to avoid paying child support.
The termination and adoption process is truly a two-step process. Generally, you cannot have one step without the other. There are two separate hearings that must occur, the final termination hearing, which terminates the rights of one or both biological parents, and the final adoption hearing, which approves the adoption of the child by the new parent or parents. If it is a termination with a stepparent adopting the child, Texas law allows for the entire two-step process to be completed in just one hearing.
There are two types of terminations: voluntary and involuntary. Because of the term “voluntary” many people think they can sign a single document and that’s the end of it. They could not be more wrong. A voluntary termination simply means that the parent losing their rights is okay with the proceeding taking place. The other party still has to file a termination suit in district court, file the voluntary relinquishment of paternity rights executed by the party to be terminated, and then have a hearing in which evidence is presented to support the reasons behind the termination. The primary reason many people choose a voluntary termination is the adoption of the child by a stepparent.
Before a child can be legally adopted, the rights to one or both of the biological parents must be terminated. That makes sense, because you wouldn’t want four or five men or women with simultaneous paternity rights to a single child. Often times, in a stepparent adoption, the court will approve a voluntary termination of the biological parent’s rights because there is a new parent waiting to step into that role. The thinking is that a stepparent who lives in the same home and is likely already playing a major role in the child’s life will be more adept to care for and support the child than will a biological parent who is not involved in the child’s life and who is willing to terminate their paternity rights.
The other type of termination is an involuntary termination. This can occur for several reasons, including incarceration for more than two years, drug use, abuse of the child or the other parent, and abandonment or non-support for a consecutive period longer than six months. A court may still want additional compelling reasons before an involuntary termination is approved. This is because the fewer people with an obligation to support the child, the more likely the State will one day have to provide services and care for the child. If the court keeps the biological parents “on the hook” then it minimizes the chance that the State will have to dole out services or payment for care later on down the road.
Once the termination is complete, the adoption process begins. In Texas, a prospective adoptive parent must complete a comprehensive criminal background check and file the results with the court, the adoptive parent must sign an affidavit which swears compliance with the Interstate Compact, and an evaluator must be appointed by the court to complete a pre-adoptive home study with the adoptive family to ensure the safety and well being of the child. A court may waive one or more of these requirements, but good cause must be shown as to each requirement to be waived.
As you can probably tell, terminations and adoptions are not clear cut legal theories. Much depends on the facts of each specific case. If you would like to learn more about either of these areas, or if you would like to set up a consultation with an experienced termination/adoption attorney, call the Pearson Law Firm today at (254) 939-3995.