Every Citizen's right to know and use the law - without hiring a lawyer - is fundamental to American Democracy. The law, like any other information, can be broken down and organized into small, easily understandable sections and bits. The 'bits' can then be put together to complete a larger task.
Making the process easier is our commitment to the public.
I should preface my remarks by saying that I was raised by a stepfather. More accurately, I was raised by my father who just happened to be legally recognized as a step-parent . I have always had some personal difficulty with the word "step-parent", (probably stemming from having read Snow White as a child [remember the wicked stepmother?]).
Regardless of what your personal beliefs may be about what is most often referred to as the 'breakdown' of the nuclear American family - IT IS A REALITY. More than fifty percent (50%) of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Well over half of those divorces involve parents and children. The result of such relationship breakdown has been a vast 'sea' of children who live in single parent households. Such statistics beg the very basic question - who is raising the children?
Stepparent Adoption law. There are almost endless parenting possibilities - some good - some not so good - and unfortunately, some just plain horrible. Single parent households have become commonplace. The number of grandparents raising their grandchildren has sky rocketed over the past twenty years; directly paralleling the prevalence of drug use and the destruction of lives and families that drug related behaviors have created.
Fortunately, for the children; being a parent actually has very little, if anything, to do with biology. I've always been somewhat dismayed by the significance placed on biology. Any animal can breed; that in and of itself is no great accomplishment. Parenting involves far more than merely being physically present at the moment of conception ; which is more often a matter of 'happenstance' than most parents would like to readily admit.
Almost daily our office hears stories about the absentee deadbeat Dad (or Mom) that hasn't been a parent to their child in years (if ever); and the step-parent who has raised the child and wants to legally adopt the stepchild. In most cases, the parents (Mom and ) are the only parents the child has ever known. In countless families, the child has never known any other father . Often 'Mom and Dad' now have 'another' child adding to the stepchild's identity problems.
Online Step parent adoption . It is often not until the stepchild goes to school that they realize there is something amiss in their family; something that sets them apart. It is their surname. Naturally, Mom, Dad and the 'younger sibling' all have one surname and the stepchild is left feeling like the 'odd man out'.
Do it yourself adoption. Although many stepchildren have never used any surname other than the surname of their stepfather, schools have rules. The basic school rules say that a child must be enrolled in school under the name on their birth certificate . Some smaller school districts may 'allow' a child to be listed formally by their birth certificate name and be informally known by their stepfather's surname. Despite the best of intentions, some day, a teacher or a substitute or an aid will make the inevitable 'slip' - calling the child by their birth surname. Often these are the children who are dismayed when the teacher stands over them, saying, "Johnnie I'm talking to you." Many children don't identify themselves with their birth surname.
In the vast majority of cases, you can handle the entire process of adoption yourself, make your own decisions about the issues that affect your life - your child - your family, get the same end result that you would have gotten had you hired a lawyer, save hundreds of dollars (probably thousands), and a great deal of time and aggravation in the process.
Each year thousands of citizens handle their own legal problems - without hiring a lawyer, and the number is rapidly growing!
Self-help and self reliance are not new ideas. It is an American Tradition. In 1845, Thomas Whooler published what may have been the first self-help legal publication, Every Man His Own Attorney.
The introduction reads:
"When attorneys are employed, they must be paid; and their charge are not always regulated whether by their abilities or their services to a client, but by their own desire to make as much as they can. This evil can only be remedied by making their clients well informed on common subjects, and able to see what course they are taking in matters of more intricacy."
"a complete guide in all matters of law and business negotiations for every state in the Union, containing legal forms and full instructions for proceeding, without legal assistance, in suits and business transactions of every description."
IT IS THE AUTHOR'S SINCERE HOPE THAT IN PROVIDING YOU WITH THE BASIC SUBJECT MATTER INFORMATION NECESSARY TO BETTER INFORM YOURSELF ABOUT THE LAWS AND LEGAL PROCEDURES THAT AFFECT YOU AND IMPACT YOUR LIFE, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE YOUR OWN INFORMED DECISIONS.
Whether or not you choose to handle your own Grand Parent adoption of your child is your decision . If you do choose to hire a lawyer to handle the process for you; you will have the basic knowledge necessary to understand the options available to you; to be a participant in the decision making process and not be dependent on a lawyer to 'tell' you what is best for you and your family.
The adoption procedure set out in the statutes follows what most of us would consider to be fundamental 'common sense'. Since a child can have no more than 2 'legal' parents at any one time; to clear the way for an adoption by a step-parent or grandparent(s), the parental rights of the child's parent(s) who will be replaced by the step-parent, or grandparent(s) must be terminated. Most often it is the stepfather that is adopting their stepchild and therefore it is the parental rights of the child's biological father that must be terminated 'to make room' for the stepfather to adopt his stepchild.
In more and more cases, the biological parent's rights to their child have already been voluntarily surrendered; usually to avoid paying child support for the child. If the parent's rights have not been previously terminated (voluntarily or by court order), the adoption suit will necessarily seek to terminate the parent's rights as a requirement of the adoption. Generally, the parent's rights are 'officially' terminated clearing the way for the stepparent's adoption of the child at the same time as the adoption is granted by the court - in one suit - one court proceeding.
The three basic procedural steps to a civil suit (including adoption) are set out by Statute. As you would expect, the suit begins by filing the suit, in the court of continuing jurisdiction (if prior orders have ever been entered affecting the child, such as custody, child support etc. or in the county where the parents and child reside if there us no prior court of continuing jurisdiction. Once a suit has been filed, all parties the statutes have designated as being 'entitled' to notice of a suit, (the 'other' parent), must be 'notified' (served) with papers letting them know you have filed a suit for the adoption of the child. This safeguard provides the biological parent the opportunity to object to the termination of their parental rights and the adoption of the child if they so choose. After those entitled to notice of the suit are given an opportunity to respond to the suit, there is a court hearing before the judge where the adoption will be approved (or denied).
SUMMARY OF PROCEDURES: There are only 3 basic procedural steps to any civil matter; including online adoption of a stepchild.
* Adoption also requires a Social Study and criminal history check of the adopting party to be conducted and filed in the case. After the adoption is filed, the social study and criminal history check are completed during the period that the other parent is being served or voluntarily signing a surrender of their parental rights so as not to delay the adoption unduly.
Step 1: Filing legal papers - the first step, is just a matter of taking (or mailing) some papers to the District Clerk's office at the court house and paying the filing fees.
Step 2: Notifying the 'other' parent - the second step - is usually also simple. You will need to decide which means of authorized service you wish to use to notify the 'other' parent that you have filed for the termination of their rights and adoption of the child by the step-parent.
Social Study: A social study is required in any adoption , even when the child to be adopted has lived with the step-parent or grandparent who is adopting them. Although the social study may be seen as an 'intrusion' on the family life of the parents, it creates no major additional steps or requirements for you to handle in processing your own case. At the same time the suit is filed, or shortly thereafter, the judge will designate a person or agency to conduct the social study and file the required report. You will be notified by the agency\person conducting the study of their general procedure for conducting the study and a time will be set for the person to actually come out to your home and interview you. After the study is completed, the report will be filed with the clerk of the court and you will be able to see the report before the hearing date by simply going to the clerk's office and asking to see your case file.
(Personal Note : in my own case, the social worker sent us a form to complete within a week after being appointed by the court. The form primarily requested family history and information about the circumstances that led to the children living with the adopting party and requested we have it completed for him when he came to the house to do the actual 'study'. Our social study consisted of him going over the answers to the questions on the form with us and talking to the children briefly. (the children were 8, 10 and 12 and aware of the circumstances).
Criminal History Most states now require a criminal history check to be completed on any person adopting a child. The adopting party simply goes by the county sheriff's office and has a fingerprint card completed to be mailed to Austin for a criminal history check. (the form and address in Austin is included in the paperwork returned to you for filing). Some sheriff's offices charge a nominal fee of $5-$10 for doing the fingerprint card, but most make no charge for taking the fingerprints.
Children 10 years of Age and Over: Most state's recently changed the age of consent from children 12 years of age and over to those 10 years of age and over, and now requires children 10 years of age and over to sign and file a consent to their adoption. (the form is included in the paperwork returned to you for filing).
Step. 3: the final step, attending the hearing, is easier than you might think. It is a surprisingly informal and painless process wherein the parties involved in the adoption have the opportunity to formally 'request' that the parental rights of the biological parent be terminated allowing the adoption to be granted (unless parental rights of the biological parent have already been terminated or voluntarily surrendered).
The Judge's primary concern is the 'best interest of the child'; an overwhelming responsibility that judges, as a group, take very seriously. They know that they have within their power the ability to impact the lives of the parties to the adoption and more importantly the life of the child.
Adoption is similar to any other civil courtroom proceeding. The parent(s) requesting the adoption (and termination of the 'other parent's rights) have the opportunity to 'tell' the court why the adoption is in the child's best interest; for example the child has been living with the parents for a period of ___ years and knows no other parent other than the 'step-parent' etc. If the 'other' biological parent chooses to appear at the hearing, they have the opportunity to tell the court why their parental rights should or should not be terminated and the adoption granted. The Judge may ask questions to help him\her better understand your circumstances. No one will be 'cross examining you' or asking a lot of questions that you don't have an answer to. After all, if you don't know the answer to any questions about your own life - who does?
The judge, after considering all of the 'evidence' (i.e. social study etc.) and the oral statements made at the hearing, makes a decision to either grant or deny the termination of the biological parent's rights and the adoption by the step-parent.
Assuming the judge finds granting the adoption is in the child's best interest, the judge signs the Decree of Adoption and the adoption is granted. You are now what you already knew you were - a parent!
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The modern movement towards self-help in solving legal problems has been largely fueled by economic realities. LAWYERS' FEES quite literally price hundreds of thousands of average citizens out of the legal system. Each year tens of thousands of 'average' citizens handle their own legal problems and the number is rapidly increasing; not because they wanted to or had nothing else to do with their time - but because DOING IT THEMSELVES is the only way they could afford to do it at all.
What most of us have been raised to call "Legal Aid" is a very misunderstood concept. Most people believe that 'somewhere out there' there is an agency (run by the government) that helps people with their legal problems (at little or no charge) for those who can't afford to hire their own lawyer. I'm not exactly sure where the 'myth' of "Legal Aid" came from, but it has very little basis in fact.
I've actually done some research into the 'myth' and how it got started. President Johnson's administration and his "Great Society Programs", seems to be the source of the 'myth'. President Johnson conceived the general plan for "legal aid" as a part of his programs to improve the lives of Americans by guaranteeing them certain necessities. Unfortunately, his vision for "Legal Aid" (as we believed it to be) seems to have fizzled out somewhere between his idea and the reality. It seems that most Americans (myself included) somehow came to believe that the 'vision' was a reality.
The reality is very different from what we came to expect. There are some "Legal Aid" societies, agencies, etc. that do provide a valuable service. Some of them do receive partial funding from government entities. The problem is that they are few and far between. Those that do actually exist are so overwhelmed with demands for their services and so understaffed that the majority of those who want services never actually get any real legal help. Because their resources are so scarce, "Legal Aid" offices must apply very strict, almost crippling criteria, to determine who will get their services. Only those cases that are the most desperate, urgent, and pose the most immediate threat to the quality of a persons life, are usually ever actually accepted and assigned for legal services.
Because the selection process requires so much pre-screening of possible cases, most of those citizens that actually apply for services never complete the lengthy process of just simply being accepted or denied services. Most just give up in frustration and go without legal services leaving their legal problems unsolved. Unfortunately for those that want to adopt their stepchild, most "Legal Aid" offices don't classify their type of case as a 'top priority', and the majority of offices don't even consider such cases.
Aside from the cost of hiring a lawyer, most everyone has either been involved, at some time or another, with a lawyer or at the very least knows someone who has been. Lawyer horror stories are common place.
Many citizens (even those who can afford to hire a lawyer) have come to the realization that hiring a lawyer does not necessarily mean that their rights or interests will be well represented. For many, who 'fear' getting involved with a lawyer for any reason - self representation offers a viable option.
Others simply prefer to Do It Themselves. There is a distinct satisfaction that comes with being able to handle your own legal affairs.
What are you paying for?
To make an informed decision about whether or not to hire a lawyer, you should first consider what it is that you are (generally) paying for in the typical uncontested case:
1. You visit a lawyer's office where the lawyer spends a few minutes talking with you and makes notes about the basic facts and circumstances of your case. The lawyer tells you (based on the facts you provided) what he or she thinks you should do.
2. The lawyer tells you how much their fee will be to handle your case and how much the filing fees and court costs will be (you will generally be required to pay both)
3. You pay the lawyer's fee, filing and court fees or at least a large down payment on the total fees.
4. You go home and wait and wonder what is happening in your case expecting to be notified by your lawyer about your case along the way.
5. The Lawyer's secretary types your paperwork.
6. The same secretary takes your papers to the court house to be filed and pays the filing fees (with your money).
7. At some point, you can't stand it anymore and you call to ask your lawyer what is happening and what is going to happen.
8. A secretary tells you that the lawyer is in court and they will have him/her get back to you.
9. Eventually, you will hear back from your lawyer or his/her secretary with an update. Unless you were fortunate enough to be able to pay the total fees at the initial visit, this is when you will find out that your adoption cannot be finalized until you pay the balance owed to your lawyer.
10. Finally, you will end up in court at a hearing. Your lawyer will say some magic words to the judge ie: your name, your spouse's name, your kid's names, etc. and looks and you and says, "Isn't that right?" You nod your head (on cue), and the judge signs some papers. That's it - it's over.
Now lets consider what happens when you do your own adoption in the same situation:
1. You make your own informed decisions and have the paperwork done using your decisions
2. You take the paperwork to the court house and file it paying the fees.
3. You have the respondent notified (see section on Citation)
4. You schedule your own hearing on any date after the required waiting period, around your schedule and not a lawyer's.
5. You go to the hearing; tell the judge your own name and the facts of your suit and the judge signs some papers. That's it.
There are several major differences when you do your own case or when a lawyer does it for you.
You are in charge. You are not left wondering what is going on (if anything) because you know when the papers were filed - you filed them. You know when and if the respondent was legally notified - you had it done. You schedule the hearing date and you make your own statement to the court.
I once heard a lawyer on one of CNN's 'round-table' programs say that, "representing yourself without the benefit of a lawyer is the same thing as doing your own brain surgery". Actually, I have found that it is much more similar to taking an aspirin to cure a headache rather than going to the doctor for a prescription. The end result is the same - the headache is gone. It is the cost that is significantly different, not the result.
I have heard many lawyers admit that, while citizens do in fact have the right to represent themselves without hiring a lawyer; and while some simple, agreed, legal matters might well be handled by 'average' citizens, step-parent adoption is not one of them. Most lawyers will no doubt tell you that the adoption of a child is too complex to be handled without hiring a lawyer. (On a personal note; I have discovered that the word 'complex' is some sort of secret code used by Lawyers to justify their outrageous fees.)
I have personally never known anyone that found adopting their stepchild to be too 'complex' for them to handle without a lawyer. Even though many things in life are in fact complex; even complex tasks can be broken down into simpler more manageable tasks. Complex legal matters are no different than any other 'non-legal' task - they can be broken down into smaller simpler tasks and taken one step at a time.
There are several reasons parents choose to handle the adoption of their child without hiring a lawyer - obviously, you will save yourself hundreds and more often thousands of dollars in legal fees. Many parents are able to adopt their stepchild when otherwise they may not have been able to do it at all - if they had to hire a lawyer simply because with the costs of every day life and providing for the child, there just is not enough 'extra' money to pay a lawyer to handle the adoption process. Another primary reason for both those parents who simply cannot hire a lawyer or those who could afford a lawyer and choose to do it themselves, is that you will have the great sense of satisfaction that only comes from having taken on and completed a task yourself.
Perhaps most importantly - you will have the knowledge necessary to understand and control this very important area of your life. Remember why you are doing this. The effort you will put into attaining that goal is worth every minute of your time, every moment of wondering "can I really do this?"; the first time that your child smiles and introduces you as Daddy or Mommy and you know that you have the 'legal papers' to prove it; and best yet - you made it possible!
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In the modern real world we all live in, there are a great many men out there that are biological fathers as the result of a 'one night stand' or a brief 'fling'. Relinquishing parental rights and responsibilities is a welcome option for them . They relieve themselves of the secret fear that they may one day be forced to live up to their parental responsibility of supporting their biological child.
Others may at least at first refuse to relinquish their rights. For those few men it seems to be some sort of 'macho' thing to cling to the fact that they have 'fathered' a child. Somehow they seem to associate signing over parental rights with being - 'not the macho thing to do'.
There is yet another group of men that will refuse to voluntarily relinquish their rights; not because they have any deep abiding bond with the child, but merely because they are worried about what their family will think if they voluntarily sign over their parental rights. I have never quite figured out how these men rationalize that their family will think any less of them for signing over their parental rights than they should think of them for not paying child support or not staying in contact with their child. For most of this group of 'fathers' they are merely going through the motions to keep up appearances by refusing to sign over their parental rights. In reality, the majority of them are secretly grateful to be relieved from the obligation of paying child support although most of this group have not regularly paid child support anyway.
There are several forms provided for by statute that allow a man to voluntarily relinquish his parental rights and responsibilities. Some clever legislator (no doubt a man himself) came up with one form - A Waiver Of Interest In A Child - that even allows a man to give up his rights without ever having to admit that he even had a sexual relationship with the child's mother - now that's a neat trick!
At the same time a man can relinquish his parental rights voluntarily by merely signing a 1 page form, he can also waive the requirement that he be served or otherwise notified of any future suit to terminate his rights or adopt the child. Not only does this provide a painless means for a man to relinquish his parental rights; it is the least expensive mean to an end for the mother and stepfather since they aren't out the expense of having the biological father 'served' or notified of the termination and adoption suit.
If you know where the biological father can be found to be served (notified), but he refuses to sign a Waiver of the formalities of service- you will need to have him formally served (notified) by service of citation. A sheriff/constable. or process server actually goes out to the biological father's home or work, and personally hands him the papers. He is not required to sign anything if personal service is made - you are only required to notify him - not get his consent. Fees for service of Citation (if needed) vary depending on the county or state where the biological father (respondent) lives and are generally from $20- 80.
In an average termination and adoption case where the biological father's parental rights must be terminated as part of the adoption and the father does not voluntarily relinquish his rights or sign a waiver of service, the average fee is in the range of $3,500.00 - $6,000.00. In the case where the biological father voluntarily relinquishes his rights and waives service of citation, the fee may be as low as $2,500.00. If the father's rights were previously terminated and only an adoption by the stepfather is being sought, the fee is generally in the range of $2,500.00-$4,000.00.
Unlike most states, the fees vary from state to state and in some states, even vary from county to county. You can find out exactly how much the fees are in your county by calling the District Clerk at your county courthouse.
For example, the fees in Wichita County, Texas for an adoption as of January, 2003 are pretty much in line with the national average, as follows:
Filing and Court Fees including Social Study $412.00 (add $28 for each additional child for a new birth certificate and Report of Adoption if the child was born in the state). If the biological parent is 'served' (notified) by personal service or publication, in the case of a missing parent, the fees for service will also be added to the filing fees and social study (approx. $50-100 depending on the means of service and the county).
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It never ceases to amaze me at the great lengths legislators, who are incidentally almost always lawyers, seem to deliberately go to in using 100 words to say what could have been better said with only 10 words; and making something that started out as a matter of common sense into something that defies logic altogether. One of my favorite quotes says it perfectly!
"The lawyers trade is a trade built entirely on words...and as long as lawyers keep carefully to themselves the key to what those words mean, the only way for the average man to find out what is going on is to become a lawyer."
"In tribal times, there were the medicine men. In the Middle Ages, there were the priests. Today, there are the lawyers. For every age, a group of bright boys learned in their trade and jealous of their learning, who blend technical competence with plain and fancy hocus-pocus to make themselves masters of their fellow men. For ever age, a pseudo-intellectual autocracy, guarding the tricks of its trade form the uninitiated, and running, after its own pattern, the civilization of its day. It is the lawyers who run our civilization for us - our governments, our business, our private lives.... The legal trade is nothing but a high class racket." (Yale Law School professor, Fred Rodell, in his book Woe Unto You, Lawyers!).
Concern over the impact and control that lawyers have on and over our lives was recognized as early as Biblical times.
"Woe be unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered." Luke 11:52
"Beware of the doctors of the law. These are the men who eat up the property of widows." Mark 12:38-41
Even some lawyers have come to realize the very substantial abuses within their own profession and have felt strongly enough about the threat to justice created and perpetuated within the legal profession itself to speak out on the issue.
President of Harvard University, Derek C. Bok, wrote:
"The American Legal System is grossly inequitable and inefficient. There is far too much law for those who can afford it, and far too little for those who cannot."
Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court warned society that:
"Ours is a sick profession," marked by " incompetence, lack of training, misconduct, and bad manners. Ineptness, bungling, malpractice, and bad ethics can be observed in court houses all over this country every day."
"Lawyers have got to stop using the court system as a means of enriching themselves at the expense of their clients."
In 1726, Jonathan Swift in his classic, Gulliver's Travels, observed: "There is a society of men among us bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose that black is white and white is black, according as they are paid. To this society, all the rest of the people are slaves." American lawyers were described by Alexis de Tocqueville, in his classic, Democracy in America as: "weeds that will grow in any soil cultivated by the hands of others..."
Once you have read the information provided at this site, and completed the informational form, simply return the form to our office with payment of our $250 document processing fee payable to:
DO IT YOURSELF FAMILY LAW;
3037 F Cunningham DriveDrive
Wichita Falls, Texas 76308.
Your completed paperwork will be return mailed to you ready to be filed within 3 business days (most within 24 hours), along with detailed procedural information to 'guide' you through the process- from start to finish- from filing your initial documents to walking out of the courthouse a newly recognized PARENT!