By Jedidiah McKeehan
If you go to a courthouse and there is a large group of people, who are well dressed, happy and there are children running around, then that group is likely there to finalize an adoption. It is not often that you see so many happy people at the courthouse, but finalizing an adoption is one of those instances where you see true joy at the courthouse.
And it seems that adoptions are on the rise, there appear to be more and more of them occurring each day. So what are the steps for an adoption exactly?
Adoption occurs in two steps. First, the birth parents’ parental rights must be terminated. Second, the adoption of the child by the adopting parent(s) must be completed. These two steps work hand in hand. You typically do not have parents’ rights being terminated without an adoption already being contemplated and who is going to be doing the adopting. I am occasionally asked by individuals who wish to end their child support obligation whether they can voluntarily terminate their rights. The answer is no. Not unless there is another individual willing to step in and assume the parental duties that you are attempting to vacate.
In order to even qualify to adopt someone in Tennessee you must be at least 18 years of age and have been a resident of Tennessee for six consecutive months. Individuals adopting can be married, single or divorced.
So what are the different ways in which a termination and an adoption can occur?
Well the easiest and most straightforward kind of adoption is a step-parent adoption. That is where a parent of child has married or re-married and the new spouse is willing to adopt the child. That means that only one parent’s parental rights are being terminated and one parent’s rights remain unchanged. If the parent consenting to the step-parent adoption agrees, then this a fairly short process of terminating the rights and then finalizing the adoption.
Another method is by the State of Tennessee, through the Department of Children Services (DCS), terminating parents’ rights because they failed to perform their parental duties. In these instances, either extended relatives or foster parents could end up being the ones adopting the child or children. Unless the birth parents agree to have their rights terminated, this process can take years with all of the court dates.
Both the federal and state government have stated that one of the most important rights parents have is the right to raise their children, so when DCS begins termination proceedings against parents, those parents are entitled to appointed attorneys who are paid for by Tennessee taxpayers. The courts give the birth parents every opportunity to attempt to get their children back in their home, but if they feel they are continuing to fail in making their homes safe for their children, then they will proceed with termination proceedings against the birth parents.
Finally, some individuals who desire to be parents and want to adopt a newborn will partner with an adoption agency in order to complete an adoption. This is an expensive undertaking and there are no guarantees that it will result in an adoption. Through this process, the adopting parents are allowed to pay for the medical expenses of the birth mother related to the birth and for other medical expenses that the mother and the child incur.
The reason this is a process that can cause some anxiety for the adopting parents is because the birth mother must wait 72 hours after the birth of the child before consenting to the adoption and then that consent can be revoked within 10 days of execution. Assuming that those both occur, then the parents can proceed with the adoption.
If you have adopted in the past or are considering and adoption, I applaud you. You are making a life altering positive change for a child.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, divorce, custody, personal injury, landlord-tenant, civil litigation and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.