Raising a child can be both parts extremely rewarding, and extremely challenging. For one thing, children are not cheap. According to a recent survey from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “a family will spend approximately $12,980 annually per child in a middle-income ($59,200-$107,400), two-child, married-couple family. Middle-income, married-couple parents of a child born in 2015 may expect to spend $233,610 ($284,570 if projected inflation costs are factored in*) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise a child through age 17. This does not include the cost of a college education.”

That’s not the only difficult thing about raising a child, either.

Say you want to adopt a child whose biological parents are still alive, it is best that the latter surrender their parental rights — a process which involves a lawyer, plus time and money. That’s the part that we’re going to be discussing today. 

When a parent terminates their parental rights, they terminate the parent-child relationship, which means that they give up all power and ability to make decisions for their child. In most instances, adoption begins with the uncontested termination of parental rights. This can be easily arranged if you know the biological parents and are in touch with them. Things get more difficult if you are unable to locate the biological parents and get them to fill out the forms necessary to terminate their rights.

So here’s how to make it happen.

Terminating Parental Rights in Texas

Biological parents who want to terminate their rights can do so in a few ways. The simplest way is to fill out and sign an affidavit. The document must include:

  • Information about the child
  • A statement which verifies that the parent understands what they are agreeing to
  • The person who will take charge of the child

The affidavit relinquishing parental rights should be signed in front of two witnesses and does not take effect until a court agrees. A judge will only agree if they believe it is in the child’s best interests. Most family law judges in Texas will approve such a measure only in the most extreme circumstances.

This can be a hurdle for adoptive parents. The finality of the decision is what makes judges so reticent to approve the termination of parental rights. Once it has been done, it cannot be undone; most judges are inclined to keep families intact. As an adoptive parent, you must be prepared to demonstrate that your assumption of parental rights will do the most good for the child.

Once the biological parents of the child have given up their parental rights, it is possible for you to have a new birth certificate issued for the child. You can have the name of the biological parents removed and yours put in. You may do well to exercise this option if the child was born into especially egregious home conditions and you don’t want them to suffer the pain and disappointment of uncovering these facts in the future.

The Illegitimate Use of Terminating Parental Rights

Not every uncontested termination of parental rights will be recognized by the courts. For example, parents cannot make this move to avoid child support. It is the policy of the state of Texas to have two parents of a child held responsible for their care and upbringing. The dropping out of one parent puts a higher financial burden on the other. It also risks involving the state in the material support of the child. Although matters between divorced couples can become complex, it is unacceptable for one of them to simply quit their role as a parent in retaliation. And you should not put yourself in the position of being party to such an act. If the judge gets one whiff of such a scheme, they will deny the request for the termination of parental rights.

Why You Should Hire a Lawyer

There are many reasons to hire a lawyer when it comes to the uncontested termination of parental rights for a child. 

The main example being if you are trying to adopt a child and get the biological parents to terminate their parental rights, then you should hire an attorney. If you are a friend of a relative of the biological parents and you have all agreed that their surrender of parental rights and your adoption of the child is in the best interest of the latter, a range of issues can still complicate the process. Only an experienced lawyer with expertise in this area can help you navigate the law and ensure that the adoption is sound.

Here are some of the many issues that you may need to sort through in a parental rights termination case:

1. Inheritance Issues

If a biological parent terminates their parental rights, they can still make it so that their child inherits their money and estate. It takes a special court order to deny a child of such an inheritance. If the person giving up their rights to the child is wealthy, then you should get some clarity on what their intentions are regarding their biological offspring. These issues can be extremely complex, especially if it is the father of the child and he is married with other children. You should get a clear statement of intention so that, in the future, the child will know if they do or do not have something coming to them.

2. One-parent termination of rights

You may be able to get one of the parents to terminate their rights; the other may refuse to do so. Or, you may not be able to find one of the parents in order to make a request. In the latter instance, you will need to make every effort to locate the absent parent before the judge will even consider a case for abandonment and the termination of their parental rights.

You should also brace yourself for the reality that only one of the parents is willing to give up their rights to the child. This will not necessarily stop the adoption process. The judge can still rule that the child is better off in your care. However, you may have to give the parent access to the child. Your lawyer can help you draw up a visitation schedule and work with the court to determine the decision-making authority you will have over the child.

3. Foster care

You may need to deal with the foster care system as part of the adoption process. If both parents volunteer to terminate their parental rights and the child has no living relatives or guardians, then they will enter the foster care system. The child will also enter the foster care system if:

  • they have been abandoned by their parents, 
  • the parents murdered one of their other children, or 
  • the parents committed a felony resulting in serious bodily harm to the child

4. Private adoption

Going through the foster care system is but one way of adopting a child. You can also do private adoption, which has become increasingly popular over the last few years.

In a private adoption, the birth mother of the child makes the decision to give them up while they are still pregnant. They work through a private adoption agency to choose the adoptive family they want for their child. The birth mother and adoptive family get in touch and make certain arrangements for prenatal care support and turning over the child after it is born. Once the child is born, the birth mother agrees to terminate their parental rights to the child and gives the newborn to the adoptive parents.

If you are a prospective adoptive parent going through private adoption, you should retain the services of an attorney. Even if the birth mother has put her promise to terminate her parental rights in writing, no court in Texas will force a birth mother to give up her child. Having a lawyer will help you understand the rights of the birth mother and will help you protect yourself against hurt, disappointment, and fraud.