When David and Kim Hodgins agreed to foster a one-year old Sonya McCaul back in 2005, they could not have known how long she would stay. After all, young Sonya had been brought across state lines from Nebraska by her babysitter, and her father was in and out of jail. But even though the Hodgins family wanted to adopt her, Sonya was sent back to Nebraska in January 2013 to live with her birth father in Omaha. They have had no contact with her since.

And now that a judge has decided that Sonya no longer needs to be looked after by the state of Tennessee, they may never see Sonya again. On February 19th, “Juvenile Court Judge Tony Sanders agreed to a DCS [Department of Children’s Services] request to remove Sonya from state custody. The move gives [Sonya’s birth] father John McCaul custody by default once the judge’s order is signed and filed.”

This case is an exceptional one, but there will be no winners here. On the one hand, The Hodgins cannot adopt a child who is not legally available for adoption. On the other hand, Sonya was pulled from the only real home she’s ever known and forced to live with a family she does not remember. It is a sad account no matter how you look at it, and heartbreak is there at every turn.

What the laws say

Because Sonya was fostered by the Hodgins family, they have no legal right to custody under Tennessee law. Had they been able to go through with the adoption legally, David and Kim may have been protected under the state’s definition of abandonment because of John’s McCaul’s imprisonment, provided that he

  • Was incarcerated at the time of the proceedings
  • Had been incarcerated during all or part of the four (4) months immediately before the start of the proceedings
  • Had willfully failed to support or has willfully failed to make reasonable payments toward the support of the child for four (4) consecutive months before he was incarcerated
  • Had engaged in conduct prior to incarceration that exhibits a wanton disregard for the welfare of the child

These arguments, however, may not apply to the Hodgins family because they are only foster parents.

The laws regarding adoption in Tennessee can be complex. For more information, or to learn more about growing your own family, please contact the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates to speak with an experienced Tennessee family law attorney.