Monday, February 09, 2009

terminations and adoptions in Texas part 1

I would like to post a bit on terminations and adoptions. I get tons of questions and emails regarding terminating a parents parental rights or a step parent wanting to adopt a step-child. I am going to give a very brief procedural layout for how this works in an attempt to answer some of these questions. In part 2 of my post I will discuss some of the hoops that must be jumped through to accomplish a termination and adoption.

Before anybody can adopt a child, either one or both biological parents must have their parental rights terminated. That means that if a step-father wants to adopt his step-child, the biological father's rights must be terminated. The point is, there can only be one father and one mother for each child whether that is biological or legally (through adoption).

A termination in Texas can only be completed by having "grounds" for the termination. Put simply "grounds" are reasons for the termination. You do not get to determine the reasons, the Texas legislature has set up the reasons for you. If you will look to the right, there is a link to my website. Please click on that link and go the the "resource links". There you can find the Texas Family Code. Specifically you need to look at Chapter 161, Section 161.001. There you will find your reasons. THERE ARE NO OTHERS! I can see the posts now...."can i terminate the father's rights cause he never visits". Is it in the list is just referenced? Then no. "Can I terminate the mother's rights cause she is crazy and talks to the walls." Is it on the list? Then no you cannot terminate for talking to walls.

The two most common reasons to accomplish a termination that I see are failure to support the child for one year or the signing of an affidavit of relinquishment. These are not the only ones, as you can see from the list, just the most common. Any of the others will work as well if they are applicable.

Failure to support a child is pretty obvious. That means that the parent has not financially supported their child. This can be failure through a court order or not. Bottom line, if you don't support your child, your rights can be terminated. The failure to support has to be recent (within 6 months of filing the petition to terminate). This means that you cannot use a parent's failure to support a child that occurred 5 years ago if the parent supports the child now.

The second is the affidavit of relinquishment. This is basically an agreed termination as the biological parent has agreed to terminate rights. The form for this is very specific and probably needs to be obtained from an attorney. This alone, as seen from the list, is grounds for termination.

In the first reason, or in any other reason other than the affidavit, you are going to have to go through a court hearing to get the rights terminated. That means filing a lawsuit, serving the party you are trying to terminate and setting a hearing where a judge will decide the issue.

With the affidavit, there is typically not the need for a full blown termination hearing as the parent has agreed to terminate. In some cases, this moves you straight to the adoption. I say in some cases because there are certain times when a person agrees to terminate their rights, but the court will not do it. I will discuss this below.

In any case, you have to complete the termination before you can complete the adoption. If you have to have a trial, then that needs to proceed and conclude before the adoption can proceed. If the affidavit is used and you do not run into the problem discussed below, then you are ready to proceed with the adoption.

Just because a biological parent agrees to sign an affidavit of relinquishment does not mean the court will terminate. The court is primarily concerned about the best interests of the child. One of the major interests the court protects is the support of the child. They will not allow a parent to terminate to avoid paying child support. They also will not allow a parent to terminate another parent's rights unless it is shown that there is someone to step in and take the place of the support provided or owed by the terminated parent or unless the parent seeking the termination of the other parent's rights can establish to the court that they can adequately meet the needs of the child financially. Even upon this showing, they still may not terminate. A parent is obligated to support their children and the court does not take this lightly. If there is someone out there who can support the child, the Court wants them supporting the child.

One more note regarding child support. While a termination of a parent's parental rights will terminate all future child support payments, it will not terminate amounts owed in the past. Those amounts have already accrued and cannot be undone.

This concludes Part 1. See you in Part 2!

The information contained in this blog is provided for informational (and sometimes entertainment) purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. I can guarantee you that I am not covering every facet of the family code, and there may be hidden gems in the Family Code that could make or break your case based upon your specific fact situation. No recipients of content from this blog, retained client or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice. ALL CASES ARE DIFFERENT BECAUSE OF THE FACTS PARTICULAR TO YOUR CASE; THEREFORE YOU NEED A LAWYER TO DISCUSS THOSE SPECIFIC FACTS. I expressly disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the content of this blog. Talk to a lawyer first, preferably me, it is that simple!