As a stepparent, do you have a strong desire to “make it official,” and formally adopt your stepchildren? There are a number of reasons why a stepparent may want to make the transition to official parenthood. These include:

  • The emotional benefits it provides for the family
  • Enabling the child to take on the last name of his or her stepparent
  • Giving the stepparent the authority to make medical and other decisions for the well-being of his or her child

Before the process of stepparent adoption can start, the other birth parent’s parental rights must be terminated. The termination may be on a voluntary or involuntary basis. When the termination is involuntary, the court makes a ruling on whether sufficient grounds exist for the termination of the birth parent’s parental rights for the child’s best interests.

Common grounds for parental rights termination

The party petitioning for the revocation of another person’s parental rights must offer sufficient and convincing evidence that grounds exist for termination and that that termination is in the best interest of the child. Some common reasons why parents can lose their parental rights include:

  • Abandonment
  • Severe neglect and/or abuse
  • Long-term alcohol or drug abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Incarceration for one or more crimes
  • Failure to provide support or stay in contact with the child

If grounds for termination are proven by the petitioning party, the court will conduct an analysis regarding the best interest of the child by using statutory elements outlined in T.C.A. 36-6-106.

Steps for termination of parental rights

Once a petition is filed for the termination of parental rights, the court designates an attorney to represent the child. This attorney, called a guardian ad litem, has the responsibility represent the best interest of the child. If the non-filing parent in the case is able to demonstrate indecency or hardship, the court, as in the majority of civil cases, will appoint an attorney for that parent.

The petition for termination of parents’ rights must be served on the non-filing parent through publication or personal service. If an emergency situation exists, the court may intervene and take the child into protective custody. The parental rights of the non-filing parent can be terminated if the parent does not respond to the petition to appear in court. The process of adoption may then be completed by default. In Tennessee, a hearing is scheduled once the petition is filed. The judge has the exclusive responsibility to grant the petition to terminate parental rights.

Moving forward with the adoption process

Once the biological parent’s rights are addressed through voluntary or involuntary termination or by proving the death of the biological parent, the adoption process may proceed. In a formal court hearing, the stepparent adoption can then be finalized with the assistance of legal counsel. This usually occurs in the judge’s chambers and not in an open court setting.

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It is important to have an experienced family law attorney working with you when it comes to issues involving parental rights and adoption. To schedule a free consultation about your case, contact our attorneys at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates by calling 615.977.9370 or completing our contact form contact form. We serve clients from our offices in Columbia, Franklin, and Brentwood.