Termination of Parental Rights & Stepparent Adoption Petitions in Tennessee

Posted by Solange McDaniel on August 17th, 2018

Are you a stepparent wanting to adopt the child of your spouse? Stepparent adoptions can only take place when you are married to one of the birth parents and the parental rights of the other biological parent is terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

There are a number of reasons why a stepparent would want to making their parenthood official:

  • The child can inherit from their stepparent when the stepparent passes away, and vice-versa.
  • new birth certificate is issued, listing the adoptive parent and the natural parent as the child’s mother and father.
  • The child can assume the stepparent’s last name.
  • The stepparent can make medical and other decisions for the child’s well-being.
  • The unification can also result in emotional benefits for the entire family.

Termination of Parental Rights

Before the stepparent adoption process can begin, the parental rights of the other birth parent will need to be terminated. His or her rights don’t need to be terminated if the noncustodial birth parent is deceased.

The termination of parental rights can be voluntary (a mother willingly giving her child up for adoption) or involuntary. In involuntary termination cases,  the Court rules on whether grounds exist and also terminating parental rights is in the best interest of the child.

The steps for termination of parental rights in Tennessee

A proceeding to terminate a parent’s rights begins when someone files a petition for the termination of parental rights. Once a petition is filed, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the child, known as a guardian ad litem, who serves to represent the child’s best interests. Unlike in most civil proceedings, the court will also appoint an attorney for the non-filing parent if they can prove hardship or indecency.

The petition must be served on the non-filing parent, either through personal service or through publication. The court may take the child into protective custody if an emergency situation exists, and if a parent fails to respond to the petition or appear in court, then parental rights can be terminated, and the adoption process completed, by default.

A hearing will be scheduled after the petition is filed. It is up to a judge’s sole discretion whether to grant or deny a petition to terminate parental rights in Tennessee.

What are some of the common grounds for termination of parental rights?

A parent’s rights are protected by the constitution, so the petitioning party must prove by clear and convincing evidence that grounds exists, and also that  terminating the parent’s rights are in the best interest of the child. Some of the more common reasons for parents losing parental rights include:

  • Severe abuse and or neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Failure to maintain contact with the child or provide support
  • Long-term drug or alcohol abuse
  • Being incarcerated for certain criminal acts

Once grounds are proven, then the Court undertakes a “best interest of the child” analysis by applying the statutory factors set out in T.C.A. 36-6-106.

Stepparent Adoption Process

You may proceed with the adoption once you address the biological parent’s rights, either by obtaining consent (voluntary termination), proving death, or involuntarily terminating parental rights. A formal court hearing will occur, with the assistance of counsel, where the stepparent adoption will be finalized, normally in the judge’s chambers and not in open court.

If you have additional questions or would like to begin the stepparent adoption process, please feel free to contact our knowledgeable and experienced adoption attorneys at Herndon, Coleman, Brading, & McKee at 423-434-4700 today.


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