Every attorney charges differantly for various types of cases, however, $5,000 per child seems to me to be an outrageious fee. You should shop around for attorneys. However, there are also costs in addition to the attorney fees--you have to have a social study of the home, and background check on the adoptive parent. These expenses are not THAT much, so it absolutely should not total $5K.
To answer your questions:
The Attorney General and the State generally do NOT allow a father to terminate his rights or terminate child support obligations without some other person picking up the legal rights and duties. If the courts let every parent who didnt want to pay child support terminate thier rights our state would be full of one-parent children. However if a new spouse is willing and able to support the child, the courts will allow the bio-parent to terminate and the new spouse to adopt. The new spouse needs to realize that he will be legally responsible for supporting the child if he ever gets divorced from the child's mother.
You don't technically need a lawyer to handle this, however, there are a lot of legal requirements and it is complicated work for a non-attorney. I would not recommend trying to do this yourself. In my opinion, the mother of the child and prospective adoptive father should hire an attorney to do this.
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I live in Houston but I'd be glad to talk to your daughter for $2 per minute and explain the terminate & step-parent adoption process in Texas. It is 2 lawsuits. It is complex. It is much too complex to try to explain in an email. I have the name of a young attorney I met in Austin at a recent legal seminar that I can share with her. I don't know if this attorney can help her but it's a start.(If she can't afford $2 per minute, then she really is in trouble! Remember, knowledge is power!)
Why? Because termination a person's rights is final and a person's parental rights is taken very seriously by the courts & the US Supreme Court. It is considered an essential human right. I don't care if this guy is this the worst guy in the US, he is still a US citizen and every US citizen has certain fundamental human rights in this country. You have them, I have them. You want them, and I want these rights. So the courts make sure that every citizen is guaranteed these rights.
Also, your daughter wants to make sure that he cannot come back later and consent this termination. Has it been done? Yes. It is horrible when many years later a superior court reverses a parental termination on a technical matter and allows a person's parental rights to be reinstated. So the Judge now make sure that everything is done properly to make sure that the Judge will not be reversed later on. No Judge wants a newspaper, television show or magazine doing an article on an adoption reversal many years later showing that the Judge did a sloppy job!
In Texas, most judges will not terminate without an adoption.
There are many steps that need to be done so the overall cost is normally several thousand dollars. There is a social study, background check of the new "daddy", attorney to represent the kids for example.
I'd look around. There are pro bono (free) legal services in the Austin area if your daughter qualifies. Many attorneys like to do these cases so they might be willing to lower their costs. However, many people right now are looking for low cost attorneys so she might have to be patient. Times are tough and demand is high for free attorneys. Also, try to find someone with experience - newly licensed attorneys are usually overwhelmed by this complex process. It's not impossible but it is a lot like juggling a lot of balls in the air! Where to start for pro bono attorneys? Look on the State Bar of Texas website or any major search engine. Also, check out www.lawguru.com - you can ask questions for free & look under Austin. Read answers and then call the attorneys that you like. See if they will offer a payment plan - many attorneys offer payment plans.
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I'm in Austin and charge a lot less than $5,000-10,000 for an uncontested (with bio-father agreeing to sign relinquishment) step-father adoption. And as long as the two children have similar legal circumstances (same mom, same dad, if there's court orders about them it's about both), I wouldn't up-charge much for a second kid. Feel free to contact my office for a consultation and we can go over what the facts are and what the charge would be. To answer your questions specifically:
1) Bio-Father can attempt to relinquish of his parental rights, but without a judge then OKing this in a "termination of parental rights" order, his signing the relinquishment has no legal effect, it's just a stage in the process. (A lot of time in child support cases, obligor will sign this paperwork and say, "Hey, look, I relinquished," and judge will refuse to terminate parental rights bc often not in the best interest of the child.) Usually termination and adoption orders are combined in a step-parent adoption.
2) The fee to the state for adoption is just the filing fee, roughly $275 in Travis County, and a few other admin costs along the way. This can be waived if parents are indigent if they complete and have approved an affidavit of inability to pay costs. The problem is these adoption papers are NOT ones you want to get wrong, so this is a tricky one to do pro se (without a lawyer), there's a lot of admin stuff that needs to happen to get a termination/adoption right.
3) What bio-dad needs to sign is an "Affidavit of Relinquishment of Parental Rights." Get a lawyer to prepare this for you, this is NOT a document you want to get wrong. Worst-case scenario if you do this pro se: he comes back to court after you think you're done and tries to un-do the adoption based on some paragraph not being in the relinquishment that is required by statute.
The above is legal information, not legal advice. If you have not paid me and signed a contract, we do not have an attorney-client relationship and I am not your lawyer.
Christine Henry Andresen