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  • Writer's pictureJessica Dunne

Up to Date: New Adoption Laws in Texas


by Jessica Dunne and Brooke Maret


The 2023 Texas legislative session passed four new laws that impact adoption, which go into effect on September 1, 2023.


Waiver of Home Study Requirement for Stepparent Adoptions


Home studies, or “adoption evaluations,” are a key requirement for Texas adoptions. These evaluations take months to facilitate and can cost the adoptive parent anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. However, a new exemption will allow Texas courts to waive the home study requirement for stepparents adopting their stepchild, provided that a few conditions are met.


The adoption must be uncontested, meaning that the biological parents consent to the adoption, and one biological parent voluntarily terminated their parental rights. Additionally, the court must review the adoptive parent’s investigative records and criminal history, the costs for which are the responsibility of the adoptive parent. If all conditions have been satisfied, the judge has the discretion to waive the adoption evaluation.


New Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Adoption is a two-step process, the first of which is the termination of the legal relationship between a biological parent and their child. In some cases, biological parents choose to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights. In other cases, a court may forcefully terminate the parent-child relationship. Involuntary termination requires very specific circumstances, and Texas has added an additional basis for termination.


The new law allows a court to terminate a parent-child relationship if the parent has been convicted of either criminal solicitation of a minor or online solicitation of a minor. The parent does not have to be convicted in Texas; any state, federal, or international conviction that is substantially similar to the Texas law will meet the requirement. Once the court finds that the parent has been convicted, the court must then determine whether termination is in the best interest of the child. If the court deems that termination is in the child’s best interest, the court may issue an order terminating the parent-child relationship.


Prohibition on Maximum Age Requirements to Adopt


Many states enforce a variety of age requirements for adoption, restricting the number of prospective adoptees who qualify to adopt. Texas is enacting a new law to minimize these restrictions, opening the door for more adoptions. The new law prohibits the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and all licensed child-placing agencies from setting certain age requirements, such as maximum age limits, for parents wishing to adopt. Consequently, prospective adoptive parents cannot be denied solely because they surpass a predetermined age.


Maximum age differences between the prospective adoptive parent and the child are also prohibited, with an exception. The law explicitly allows child-placing organizations to consider the health and expected lifespan of each adoptive parent when determining the child’s best interest. Therefore, if a prospective adoptive parent may not be able to care for the child until the child turns 18 years old, whether due to the prospective adoptive parent’s advanced age or health concerns, the organization may legally deny the adoption application. This new legal standard seeks to eliminate age bias within the adoption industry, while continuing to prioritize the interests of the adopted child.


Inheritance Rights Expanded to Adoptive Parents who Adopt by Estoppel


A new Texas law will allow parents who adopt by estoppel to inherit from their adoptive children. In order to understand this new right, it is important to first recognize the distinction between adoption by estoppel and legal adoption. Adoption by estoppel takes place when an adult raises a minor child as their own, despite not being the child’s biological parent. The child resides with the adult, and the adult agrees to care for the child as an adoptive parent would, but the legal process of adoption was not completed. This relationship is known as equitable adoption, or adoption by estoppel.


Children adopted by estoppel have long been able to inherit from and through their adoptive parents as if they were their biological child. However, until now, this right has not been extended to the adoptive parents. Under the new law, both the child adopted by estoppel and the adult(s) who adopted them will be able to inherit from one another as a biological parent and child otherwise would. This new precedent closes a crucial gap in inheritance law by providing parents who adopt by estoppel the same inheritance rights as parents who legally adopt.


For compassionate help navigating both the Texas adoption system and inheritance issues, contact our experienced adoption and probate attorneys at FGHW.


 

Jessica Dunne is a partner at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Wilmoth. Jessica’s practice consists of probate, guardianship, and trust litigation, with a special interest in adoption matters. Jessica has successfully negotiated and resolved will contests, contested guardianship matters, allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, probate homestead issues, complex determinations of heirship, and common law spouse claims. In addition to representing individuals in various probate matters, Jessica has been appointed attorney ad litem in numerous heirship and guardianship proceedings in Dallas, Collin, and Kaufman Counties.


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