Only a few months ago, the governor signed Tennessee’s First in Adoption bill resulting in several key modifications pertaining to adoptions and termination of parental rights in our state.
The first major change is an entirely revamped surrender form. A surrender is what parties execute in order to voluntarily terminate their parental rights to a child or children. Prior to the new law enacted in July, the surrender form was several long pages of complex and convoluted legalese. Under the new law, the surrender form is only two pages and much easier to understand and use. The hearing for the surrender must still be held in the presence of a judge and is typically privately conducted in chambers. Next, the new law offers greater protections for out-of-state putative fathers by mandating that a party must conduct an inquiry of the putative father registry for children born out of state. Additionally, the new law expands the jurisdiction of courts to include new Tennessee residents and active duty military members who are Tennessee residents, but are stationed outside of the state.
The First in Adoption law also pared down the technical requirements regarding the grounds for terminating parental rights. Under the new law, the grounds to terminate parental rights are abandonment, severe child abuse and dependent and neglected children whose parents do not remedy the circumstances that led the children to be dependent and neglected. To prove abandonment, a petitioner would not only have to show that the parent did not visit the child or provide support, but previously a party would also have to prove that the parent’s failure was willful, which is a. most difficult and subjective thing to show to a court. Under the new law however, a petitioner no longer has to prove this willfulness element, and instead “absence of willfulness” is an affirmative defense for the parent to prove and incentivizes them to show the court that their failure was not willful if they do not wish for their parental rights to be terminated. For children found dependent and neglected, the new law enforces the failure to offer a suitable home applicable to both parents regardless of which parent had physical custody at removal. Previously this only applied to the party that the child was removed from their custody, but not to the other party-parent who did not have actual physical custody at the time.
Finally, the First in Adoption law modifies the ground of severe child abuse. Previously, it was grounds for termination of parental rights if a party had committed severe child abuse “against the child who is the subject of the petition or against any sibling or half-sibling of such child, or any other child residing temporarily or permanently in the home of such parent.” Under the new law however, the ground applies if the party committed severe child abuse against any child, regardless of relation to that party.
If you have questions about adoptions, termination of parental rights, or juvenile delinquency, please call us at (865) 685-4780 to schedule a case assessment with a Held Law Firm attorney.