Independent adoptions (also referred to as private adoptions) often emerge naturally when a birth mother is pregnant and determines she is not able to raise the child. She may identify a friend or family member willing to adopt. Many birth mothers feel strongly that they do not want the child to be placed in foster care, and would rather choose a family they know will love and care for the child. The biological mother typically surrenders her parental rights shortly after the birth.
Tennessee has a mandatory waiting period of 3 days after the baby is born before a Court can accept a surrender. If the child is born on a Monday, the first possible day for a surrender would be Friday. As a practical matter, it often takes longer based on the schedule of the Court, attorneys, and parties involved, as well as the voluminous paperwork that must be completed.
The surrender hearing occurs in the Judge’s chambers. The birth parent and his or her attorney meet privately with the Judge to ensure that the birth parent understands the rights that she is relinquishing and that she is making the decision of her own free will. Then the adoptive parents and their attorney meet privately with the Judge to accept the surrender.
Once the surrender of parental rights is executed, your attorney will ask the Court to grant the prospective adoptive parents guardianship or partial guardianship of the child. Guardianship allows them to access medical records and make medical decisions, apply for health insurance and other benefits, and care for the child.
In 2015, the time period for a birth parent to revoke the surrender of parental rights decreased from ten days to three days after the surrender. The three-day period does not include weekends and holidays. No reason is required for the revocation, and the child must be returned to the person entitled to custody prior to the surrender.
The biological father’s rights must also be terminated. This can be done through a waiver of interest, consent, surrender, or involuntary termination of parental rights. The birth mother will complete an affidavit regarding the identity of the birth father. If the birth father’s identity is unknown, your attorney will discuss your options for how to proceed.
In an independent adoption, the parties may know each other and often choose to have an open adoption. An open adoption is different for every family. It may include an annual visit, exchanging pictures and letters, and phone calls. If the birth parent prefers not to be contacted by the child or adoptive family, they can designate their preference in the Contact Veto Registration form in the surrender packet.
Independent adoptions occur when the child goes directly from the physical and legal custody of the birth parent to the physical and legal custody of the prospective adoptive parents without being placed in the custody of the State of Tennessee or an adoption agency. A home study is required by a licensed adoption agency, and that agency will provide supervision during the six-month waiting period mandated for non-relative adoptions. The agency typically makes two or three additional visits during the period the child resides with the prospective adoptive family before the adoption is finalized.
Part of the surrender process includes collection of the birth parents’ social and medical history. Birth mothers may also be willing to sign an authorization to release medical records allowing the prospective adoptive parents access to prenatal records and other pertinent information.
The Adoption Law Center strongly advocates that birth parents receive psychological counseling and independent legal representation. These are preventative steps that make a successful adoption more likely. The prospective adoptive parents are responsible for these expenses.
Tennessee has strict laws concerning payments to birth mothers. Funds must be limited to actual expenses and only for a limited period before and directly after the birth. Funds should only be issued through your attorney’s trust account to ensure that there is a record of all payments and that your attorney has approved the legality of the expenditure. There are criminal penalties for payments to a birth parent that are outside the parameters of the law.