There are two types of adoptions in Texas, private and agency-assisted. This article deals with domestic private adoptions, including step-parent adoptions. It does not deal with agency or international adoptions.

Prior to the adoption itself is the termination process, a separate process which is often conducted immediately prior to the adoption and is an integral part of the adoption process as adoption cannot occur unless termination has occurred. Termination of parental rights is a process in which, for all practical purposes, the parent’s rights and duties to a child are legally erased, as if the child had never been born to that parent. Involuntary terminations involve weighing the constitutional rights of a parent against the best interest of a child. Courts take parental rights very seriously and involuntary terminations put a heavy burden on the person seeking to terminate those rights. Voluntary terminations, such as in the case of step-parent and grandparent adoptions, occur much more frequently. Although such adoptions require strict adherence to Texas laws to protect all parties, they are usually approved if all laws are followed carefully.

The termination/adoption process begins with the adopting person(s) filing an original petition for termination and adoption. If the adoption is a step-parent adoption, the biological mother and step-father must together petition for the adoption. A petition is a legal document in which a request is made for the termination and adoption to take place. If the procedure is a voluntary one, the biological father (in the case of a step-parent adoption) or biological mother and father in the case of a private, non-step-parent adoption, must sign a number of documents which involve waiving interest in the child, relinquishing legal rights to the child, swearing to the status of the child, etc., and agreeing to the procedure. These documents when signed are filed with the Court. The written consent of a child over 12 to be adopted is also required and must be filed with the Court.

If the adoption is not voluntary because the biological parent(s) cannot be located, specific, careful procedure must be followed to provide the absent parent(s) as much notice as is possible under the circumstances. If the biological parents can be located but not agree in writing, careful procedures must be followed to assure that they were given notice and did not timely respond to the court.

If the adoption is not a step-parent or intra-family adoption, a Health, Social, Education and Genetic History Report including information about the history of any physical or sexual abuse of the child must be completed by the parent placing the child for adoption. The report must also be signed by the adopting parents. In addition, for all private adoptions, including step-parent adoptions, a Criminal History Report containing the criminal history record of the adopting person must be requested from the Texas Department of Public Safety and filed when completed with the presiding court. The request to the DPS includes the adopting parent’s fingerprint card. A report from the DPS normally takes 3-6 weeks to receive and is submitted directly to the court, not the attorney or applicant.

In addition to the above, a request must be made in the petition for termination/adoption for a social study to be conducted. The court will appoint a local agency to conduct the social study. A caseworker assigned by the agency will visit the home of the adopting parents, interview the biological parent(s), check references, review criminal history reports, and make any other inquiries necessary to determine that the termination and adoption will be in the child’s best interest. The caseworker will file the report directly with the court and notify any parties and/or attorneys that the confidential report is on file with the court. It often takes 8-10 weeks for this step to be completed and the report filed. The court at its discretion may also appoint an amicus attorney to conduct an investigation and report back to the court.

Once the Criminal History Report, Social Study report and amicus’ report are filed, assuming all other consent and notice documents are in the court files, a hearing is held in which the termination proceeding takes place and the adoption finalized. From time of filing the original petition to the time of the hearing, the entire process usually takes five-six months to complete. Once the judge grants the adoption, the adopting parents may obtain a certified copy of the court order and may then request a new birth certificate for the child.

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