Getting married is an exciting time for everyone. When you decide to make your new spouse’s child part of your family by becoming a step parent, it is even more rewarding.
There are a series of legal steps to go through to accomplish a stepparent adoption. The first step in the process is to terminate the parental rights of the child’s other biological parent. When the parent voluntarily relinquishes his/her parental rights, this process is easier. However, it is more frequent for the parent to put up a fight. In either scenario, the court and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) will closely evaluate the situation to determine whether terminating parental rights is in the best interests of the child.
Voluntary termination of parental rights
If a biological parent agrees to having their parental rights terminated, they can file an Affidavit of Relinquishment of Parental Rights. This document helps move the stepparent adoption process along. However, filing this affidavit does not mean parental rights will automatically be terminated.
Instead, a caseworker from DFPS will look closely at the situation to verify that the decision to give up parental rights was done for the right reasons and without coercion. For example, a prospective adoptive parent, or the other biological parent cannot promise that giving up parental rights will be rewarded with the opportunity to visit the child or as a bargain to prevent other legal action.
Another important consideration is timing. Parental rights cannot be relinquished until at least 48 hours after the birth of the child. If the person who is to adopt the child is known at the time of relinquishment, it is possible to issue consent to place to child up for adoption at the same time. Under these circumstances the affidavit will generally be considered irrevocable – but it may also be revocable for a limited amount of time to allow the biological parent to change his/her mind.
Involuntary termination of parental rights
Often times the biological parent does not want to give up his or her parental rights, even when the step parent is better suited to, or is already fulfilling, the parental role. In this situation, terminating rights before a stepparent adoption becomes more complex.
The stepparent must present the court and the DFPS with grounds for termination, which may include evidence of endangerment or abandonment. It must be shown that the presence of the biological parent in the child’s life presents a threat to the child’s stability, and that adoption is in the child’s best interest. If the biological parent is simply missing, the DFPS needs to conduct a search to locate the biological parent to allow them to play a role in the proceeding, either to reject or accept termination efforts.
Like any custody agreement, the child’s best interests are the most important thing to consider. Whether the process of relinquishing parental rights goes smoothly or not, it is important that every aspect of the decision is carefully considered. If your family is considering a step parent adoption, a family law attorney can help you navigate the process in the most efficient manner possible.