When there’s an adoption plan for an infant, usually the birth mother will sign a Power of Attorney allowing the prospective adoptive parent(s) to care for the child, access medical records, and make medical decisions. If the child is born premature, the birth mother is released from the hospital and the baby may remain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
A hearing will be scheduled with the Judge for the birth mother to surrender her parental rights. The birth mother must attend. A home study on the prospective adoptive family must be presented to the Judge before the surrender is approved. Surrenders occur in the Judge’s chambers or private meeting room. Because surrender hearings are often requested on short notice, between the attorneys’ schedules and the Judge’s schedules, the surrender of parental rights often occurs well after the required four day waiting period after the birth of the child.
Extensive forms must be completed prior to the surrender. These forms are developed by the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to determine the social and medical history of the birth parents, any fees that have been paid in association with the adoption, whether the birth family is eligible for membership in a Native American tribe, whether the birth mother requests legal or psychological counseling, whether the birth parent is open to contact from the child and family, and other information.
First, the birth mother and her attorney meet with the Judge. They review her rights and affirm that her decision is voluntary. The birth mother signs the surrender of parental rights in front of the Judge. Next, the prospective adoptive parents meet privately with their attorney and the Judge to accept the surrender of parental rights.
The attorney for the prospective adoptive parents presents the Judge with a Motion for Guardianship that is sworn to by the prospective adoptive parents and an Order for Guardianship prepared for the Judge’s signature. If the father’s rights have been terminated, either by a surrender of parental rights, waiver of interest, or denial of paternity, the prospective adoptive parents are granted full guardianship. If the father’s rights have not been addressed, the Judge will enter an Order for Partial Guardianship.
An Order for Partial Guardianship allows the prospective adoptive parents the rights of a guardian, subject only to the rights of the father(s). Most health insurance companies allow families to add the child to their policy with an Order of Guardianship. You should check with your health insurance company first, and obtain the answer in writing. If the father is unknown, or he cannot be located, your attorney will file a Petition for Adoption After a Direct Placement and Termination of Parental Rights.
If the adoptive family lives in another State, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children applies. The adoptive family stays in Tennessee until both the sending and receiving States approve the family to travel. Most ICPC offices move quickly to approve these cases provided the packet is complete upon submission. The Tennessee ICPC office does not have a digital submittal method, so packets are usually delivered via overnight mail.
From the perspective of analyzing risk, each of these steps are significant. A Power of Attorney is revocable at any time and for any reason, but it is an indicator that the birth mother is still committed to the adoption plan. Executing the surrender of parental rights is another step that demonstrates the birth mother’s willingness to follow through with the adoption plan. The birth mother has three business days following the surrender to change her mind. If she revokes the surrender within this period, the child is returned to the birth mother’s custody. Once the revocation period passes, you have reached a threshold requirement for securing the adoption.
The Petition for Adoption can be filed immediately after the surrender of parental rights. Your attorney will ask you to review the petition and then you will sign in front of a notary verifying that the contents of the petition are correct. During the six-month period prior to finalization, your agency will make home visits to ensure that the baby is bonding with the parents and the family has the appropriate support. The final court report is provided to the Judge before he or she signs the Final Decree of Adoption.
The Adoption Law Center of Middle Tennessee, PLLC has experience with the surrender process, and is happy to answer any questions you may have. We have excellent relationships with local Judges, court staff, and attorneys, making the scheduling of a surrender of parental rights as easy as possible. Call us today for a free consultation!