Grandparents or other family members often step into the role of primary caregiver when the biological parents are unable or unwilling to parent. Obtaining custody of the child may be the first step in this process.
In Tennessee, the term “related” is defined as grandparents (and any degree of great-grandparents), aunts or uncles (and any degree of great-aunts or great-uncles), stepparent, first cousins, first cousins once removed, or any sibling or half sibling, as well as any spouse of these relatives.
A final decree of adoption means that the relationship between the primary caregiver and the child becomes the legal relationship of parent and child, providing the security of a permanent, stable home. If the circumstances or desire of the biological parents change, the child is not subjected to legal battles over custody or visitation.
Typically with relative adoptions, when the adoption is complete, nothing changes for the child. They continue to be raised in a loving, committed home. However, in the eyes of the law, everything is different. The birth certificate is changed to reflect the legal relationship of parent and child. All of the rights and responsibilities of parents are granted to the adoptive parents, including the child’s physical, emotional, educational, and medical care.
The six month waiting period and home study are routinely waived in many courts.
There are three ways relative adoptions are generally accomplished:
1. Consent of the biological parents
When the biological parents consent to the adoption, they join in the Petition for Adoption as Co-Petitioners as they are also requesting that the court terminate their parental rights and allow the relatives to adopt. Birth parents may be motivated to agree because they believe it is the best option for the child and/or because once the adoption is finalized, their child support obligations end. This is the easiest and least expensive method. This method also preserves the reputation of the birth parents because no grounds for termination of parental rights are required in the court documents.
2. Default Judgment
If the biological parents either can’t be found or aren’t willing to consent to the adoption, the caregiving relatives can file a Petition for Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights. If the birth parents don’t respond after being properly served, the Court issues an Order Terminating Parental Rights. This is a common outcome because many uninvolved birth parents are not willing to make an affirmative decision and take action to terminate their parental rights. However, they are also not willing to appear in court to assert their rights.
3. Contested hearing Biological parents may also seek to contest the termination of parental rights action in court. They are entitled to a free lawyer if they cannot afford one. The court-appointed attorney will represent the birth parent for free at the trial level of litigation as well as at the appeal level if they are unsuccessful at the trial court. These cases can drag out for years, create tremendous anxiety and tension within the family, and be very expensive.
In March of 2019, Tennessee enacted a statute that creates a mechanism for an enforceable post adoption contact agreement (PACA). Prior to March of 2019, PACAs existed, but they were explicitly moral agreements between the parties and were not enforceable through the court. These agreements can be drafted in a wide range of ways to allow pictures, updates, and even visits with the birth parents while still protected the physical and emotional safety of the child.
We routinely handle relative adoptions at the Adoption Law Center. Get in touch with us today if you have questions about how the process may work for your family. Call us at 615-543-8640 or shoot us an email at [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you!
Adoption Law Center, PLLC
3102 West End Ave.
Nashville, TN 37203