Adopting a child can expand an existing family or create a new one. When an adoption is finalized, it should be among the happiest moments of your life; however, the adoption process can be riddled with legal obstacles and hurdles along the way. For those who are contemplating the adoption of a child, a Murfreesboro adoption lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what you need to know about the Tennessee adoption process.
Basic Tennessee Adoption Requirements
The legal requirements for adopting a child will depend, to some extent, on what type of adoption you are pursuing. For example, if you are planning to adopt a child from another country, you must comply with both the adoption laws in that country and those of the State of Tennessee. Conversely, if you are adopting a relative (grandchild, niece, nephew etc.) the requirements and legal procedures are somewhat less stringent. Tennessee Code 36-1-115 governs the basic requirements for adopting a child in the State of Tennessee. Pursuant to that statute, a prospective adoptive parent must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be a resident of Tennessee for at least six consecutive months (exceptions may be made for certain relative adoptions and for Tennessee residents who are stationed with the military outside of Tennessee)
- Have physical custody or must demonstrate to the court that they have the right to receive custody of the child sought to be adopted as provided in § 36-1-111(d)(6) at the time the petition is filed, unless they are filing an intervening petition seeking to adopt the child.
- If the prospective parent has a spouse living, competent to join in the petition, such spouse shall join in the petition; provided, that if the spouse of the petitioner is a legal or biological parent of the child to be adopted, such spouse shall sign the petition as co-petitioner, and this shall be sufficient consent by the legal or biological parent for the petitioner’s spouse to adopt the child of the legal or biological parent, and no surrender shall be necessary by such co-petitioning legal or biological parent. Such action by the legal or biological parent shall not otherwise affect the legal relationship between that parent and the child.
Although these are the state’s minimum requirements to adopt a child, there are additional requirements if the child is in custody of the Department of Children’s Services. For example, you must be 21 instead of 18 to adopt a child. Also, if the child has resided in the foster home for 12 or more consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of an adoption petition.
You will also likely need to get a formal “home study” by a licensed child placing agency regardless of which path you use to adopt a child. The aim of a home study is to educate prospective parents about the realities of adoption as well as to ensure that the home is safe and appropriate for the child. It will typically include a description of your family, verifications, medical, verifications, financial statements, and references.
The State of Tennessee also requires prospective parents to complete Tennessee KEY training, which is a required education and self-assessment process. It explores communications styles, helps families understand the feelings of grief and the loss that children can experience, and helps you identify family strengths.
Adoption Legal Steps
Along with all the statutory and administrative requirements of which you need to be aware, you also need to be familiar with the legal steps involved in the adoption process. To initiate the adoption process, a petition to adopt is filed with the appropriate court. Both the background check(s) and home study need to be submitted to the court as well as proof that you have completed the training (if required). If the child’s birth parents still have legal rights to the child, those rights must be terminated before the adoption can be finalized.
Contact a Murfreesboro Adoption Lawyer
If you have additional questions about adopting a child in Tennessee, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro adoption lawyer to discuss your legal options. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.