Maryville Attorneys Supporting Stepparent and Relative Adoptions
Serving clients looking to expand their families through adoption throughout East Tennessee
Every day in Tennessee relatives step forward and offer to care for a child in their family who is unable to live with their parents. Kinship adoption allows the child to maintain ties to their family of origin, and states generally give preferences to relatives who are willing and able to make the commitment to attend to the child’s needs for the rest of their life.
At Shepherd & Long, P.C., we have more than 40 years of combined legal experience helping prospective parents navigate the often complicated but entirely rewarding adoption process. There is no need to be intimidated by the legal process because when you work with us you will have a dependable advocate by your side through every step of the way.
What are the requirements for relative adoption in Tennessee?
Every state has its own legal framework for adoption, and under Tennessee law, the relative must be related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption. A “relative” can be the child’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles, or stepparent, cousins of the first degree, or any siblings of the whole or half degree, and the spouse of a relative. The prospective adoptive parent must have primary care of the child whether through an informal family arrangement or through legal custody or guardianship.
The prospective parents must be able to show that they can provide a safe home for the child until they reach legal adulthood.
Common questions about stepparent adoption in Tennessee
My spouse has died; can I still adopt my stepchild?
Yes, you can! But you can only adopt if your stepchild’s other biological or legal parent has terminated his or her parental rights. If both legal or biological parents are now deceased, you can legally adopt your stepchild.
I adopted my stepchild and now my spouse wants a divorce. What can I do?
If you legally adopted your stepchild, that is your child. In the event of a divorce, you will need to address child support, child custody, and other important issues just as you would if you were the biological parent.
The first thing you should do, then, is hire a good divorce lawyer.
Does my stepchild get a say in the adoption?
If your stepchild is 14 or older, he or she will get a say in whether or not the adoption can proceed. The child will need to agree to it in writing. If the child is 13 or younger, the judge will likely ask the child for his or her opinion, but the judge will have the final word.
Will my stepchild’s name change?
Once the court finalizes the adoption, the child’s birth certificate will be changed to reflect that. If your child wants to take your last name, he or she can; it’s a decision that’s up to the child and to you.
Addressing parental rights in relative and step-parent adoptions
While the rights of any biological or legal parents must first be terminated before a stepparent or relative adoption may proceed, many of the formalities required in other types of adoptions may be waived in stepparent and relative adoptions.
For example, the judge can and often does waive the requirement for a home study, and there is not a six (6) month waiting period. Also, in relative adoption cases, one or both birth parents often give consent to the adoption by joining in the adoption petition. This makes stepparent and relative adoptions much more affordable for the prospective adoptive parents.
The biological parents can relinquish their parental rights so that the child may be adopted by a stepparent or relative, or the prospective adoptive parents can petition the court to terminate the parent’s rights in cases of abandonment, abuse, neglect, incarceration, failure to support the child or substance abuse.
Legal options for kinship/relative care givers in Tennessee
In addition to adoption we offer legal assistance to relatives who want to open their home to a child relative the full spectrum of legal options available in Tennessee for kinship caregivers:
- Power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal arrangement made between you and the child’s parents which makes you the official caregiver of the child with the authority to make legal, medical and educational decisions on behalf of the child.
- Legal custody. A judge gives you legal custody of the child, which gives you the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s education and medical needs. The custody order may also contain guidelines for parental contact and visitation, and the parents may be required to pay child support.
- Kinship foster care. If the child is already in DCS foster care you can apply to become their foster parent. After a home study, foster parent training and background checks the child may live at home with you. However, DCS and the Child and Family Team will work with you to make decisions about the child’s medical and educational needs.
- Permanent guardianship. The court can grant you permanent guardianship of the child, which gives you most of the same rights as a parent without the need for the parents to terminate their parental rights. The court will determine visitation and the parents’ responsibilities for child support.
Should I adopt or become a Relative Caregiver, instead?
Tennessee offers a Relative Caregiver Program that helps families who take in children that may otherwise have gone through the foster system. It’s different from foster care because Relative Caregivers don’t get stipends; on the other hand, DCS doesn’t get involved, either. The Program may be a good fit for:
- Children whose parent(s) is/are incarcerated
- Children who were abandoned, but whose parents haven’t terminated their parental rights
- Children who are closer to age 18
- Children whose parents have informal arrangements with family members regarding their raising and care
Caregivers still have to prove they can care for a child, and they have to accept support services.
How can a Maryville adoption lawyer help?
Over the years, we have seen increasing numbers of grandparents and other relatives raising their grandchildren and great nieces and nephews. They are often very fearful about the adoption process: the expense, being involved in the court system, and whether they will be able to handle raising a young child. We can help ease those fears by shouldering the legal burden for them. Our experienced Maryville adoption lawyers understand the complexities of kinship and stepparent adoptions and we work to negotiate agreements that are in the best interests of the child.
Schedule a consultation with an experienced Maryville adoption lawyer today
Our adoption lawyers at the law firm of Shepherd & Long, P.C. are here to support your desire to make a child a part of your family through adoption. We work with you to find creative solutions to any obstacles in your path while we support you in achieving the goal of growing your family. You are encouraged to call us at 865-982-8060 or fill out our contact form now to schedule a no-obligation consultation to discuss your case.