When parents are either unwilling or unable to care for their child, grandparents are often the ones who step forward to fill that void. For these children, the care and emotional stability offered by loving grandparents is a gift, however it’s an arrangement that isn’t without its challenges. The biggest being: legal authority.
Despite their unfailing love and devotion, Nana and Papa simply don’t come prepackaged with the same, inherent rights and powers as biological parents. Hence, in order to meet their grandchild’s needs, it sometimes becomes appropriate—even necessary—for grandparents to sue for adoption.
If you are a grandparent thinking about initiating an adoption case, here are some important things to know about grandparent adoption in Texas.
Grandparent Adoption: Overview
Whether grandparents, or strangers, adoption is the legal process of shifting parental rights and responsibilities from a biological parent, to an outside adult.
Unlike a guardianship, the effects of such a transformation are permanent, and far-reaching. Once finalized, adoption alters lines of inheritance, and even requires the child to receive a new birth certificate. In the eyes of the court, there is no difference between the rights afforded to biological parents, versus adopted ones.
Concerned grandparents will often initiate this process in situations of child abandonment or CPS intervention, but it can also be utilized if parents have been incarcerated, declared incompetent, or are dead.
For grandparents, the adoption process can be broken down into four main steps:
- Termination of parental rights;
- Passing a home study;
- Obtaining child consent; and,
- Finalizing adoption at a hearing.
Step 1: Terminating Parental Rights
Parental rights are held in the highest regard by Texas courts, and judges will not sever them unless it is in a child’s absolute best interest. As a result, the process of ending a biological parent’s inherent authority is often the most intense and time-consuming aspect of grandparent adoption.
In Texas, termination can be accomplished in one of two ways: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary Termination. Unsurprisingly, this is the simplest method. Parents who agree with the arrangement need only file an Affidavit of Relinquishment with the court, acknowledging their consent to the termination (though, it will not be finalized until your hearing, when the judge signs it into order).
While this might sound strange, it’s actually not uncommon for parents to relinquish rights when they know they aren’t fit to meet their child’s needs. In these situations, parents have the opportunity to help shape the terms of termination.
Involuntary Termination. If a parent is unwilling to give up their claims, the process of securing termination becomes a bit more difficult.
Grandparents dealing with an unwilling parent will need to show the court clear and convincing proof that termination is in the child’s best interest. Naturally, this is a high bar to meet, and only weighty claims such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, refusing to support, and child endangerment are likely to sway a judge to dissolve these rights, involuntarily.
Any evidence you have that supports an claim of involuntary termination will be presented to a judge at your hearing. At that time, parents will also have the opportunity to raise their objections.
Parent Not Found. Sometimes, it’s not so much a matter of voluntary or involuntary termination, as it is an issue of absentee parents. In these situations, the Texas Family Code allows grandparents to file for termination if:
- Doing so would be in the child’s best interest; and,
- The parent voluntarily left the child alone for more than six months, without making arrangements for their support.
In other words, grandparents who have been on unplanned babysitting duty for more than six months (without contact or support) can sue for termination in a parent’s absence.
Step 2: Home Study
Once the termination process has been initiated, the next step is to pass a home study (or, rather, a home inspection). This is a mandatory assessment, even in situations where the child is already living with grandparents.
While this might sound a bit ominous, the purpose of the inspection isn’t meant to be adversarial, so there’s no need to be nervous—it’s not a test! Rather, a home study merely ensures that grandparents have the health, know-how, and facilities necessary to take on the role of parent.
A home study can cost anywhere from $500-$1,000, and must be completed by a licensed home study agent.
Step 3: Child Consent
In Texas, children over twelve are required to give written consent to the proposed adoption. Often, this requirement can easily be accomplished by signing a ready-made document provided by your law firm.
Judges are free to consider the wishes of children under twelve, but their consent is not necessary to make a final decision.
Step 4: Hearing
The last hurdle to grandparent adoption is to attend your adoption hearing. Here, a judge will listen to all arguments, review evidence, and finalizes a decision via court order.
In some cases, this meeting is nothing more than an official transferring and signing of documents. Indeed, for parents who are willing, parental termination and adoption can often be finalized at the same time. If the situation warrants involuntary termination, however, this process can take much longer.
Ultimately, the length and difficulty of a grandparent adoption hearing will hinge entirely upon the details of the individual situation, and especially how biological parents respond to termination requests.
Adoption is permanent, and its effects are far-reaching. This process doesn’t just give grandparents legal authority; it completely shifts family lines, making it look—for all intents and purposes—as though adoptive parents were the child’s biological parents from the start. Because of these hefty ramifications, grandparent adoption isn’t always the right answer, and it may be better to seek legal authority through other avenues.
One of these alternatives is to file for guardianship. Assignments of guardianship grant an outside adult the power to make decisions on behalf of a child, their estate, or both, without terminating parental rights. The process is not as intense or permanent as adoption, and can be useful in situations where parents are absent on military assignment, for an illness, or have been incarcerated.
If grandparents and parents are able to work together, another option could be to file an Authorization Agreement for Non Parent Relative. This type of contract can be used to delegate legal and decision-making authority in individual, piecemeal increments, allowing parents to meet the needs of the situation while still retaining their rights.
In the end, no solution is a “one-size-fits-all,” and the easiest way to find out what will work best for you, is to discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney.
Grandparent Adoption Attorneys in Texas
Becoming a grandparent is one of life’s many joys, however, it can be equally as heartbreaking to watch the needs of that beloved child go unmet. The choice to initiate a case for grandparent adoption is never an easy one, but in some cases, it might be the right one.
If you are struggling to know whether grandparent adoption is right for you, or are interested in exploring alternative options, the team at Neal Ashmore wants to hear from you. Call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help you get your grandchild the care they need.