You have probably heard the quote “Adopting one child won’t change the world: but for that child, the world will change.” While this is a true statement, one major thing is omitted: adoption will change the lives of everyone it touches. Once you see or learn of a child in need, you cannot walk away unchanged. Your eye affects your heart. It is likely that if you stumbled upon this article that you are, at the very least, curious about adoption, and—at the greatest—ready to dive in wholeheartedly and actively bring your child home. Maybe you are curious about what it takes to adopt in Tennessee. Whatever brought you here to read this humble article, I am grateful that you are here. This article will endeavor to give you the information you need to adopt in Tennessee and be prepared to have life be forever altered. (Please note that, while I have tried to be thorough, this article is no substitute for working with a licensed adoption professional.)

Basic information regarding Adoption in Tennessee

Adoption in TN (Tennessee) has very few restrictions. In fact, there are only two basic legal requirements that must be met. A hopeful adoptive parent in Tennessee must be at least 18 years old and must be a resident of the state of Tennessee for at least six consecutive months. There is no upper age limit to which must be adhered, but most agencies prefer that adoptive parents be below 55. While these are just basic prerequisites, individual agencies may have additional guidelines that must be followed.

As with most forms of adoption, Tennessean adoptive families must have a completed home study. A home study will determine if the individual or couple is mentally, physically, and financially stable enough to provide for a new child. You do not need to be married or even own your own home to adopt, and Tennessee does make provision for those who have been convicted of a felony to possibly adopt. American Adoptions states that “As part of the adoption home study, you will need to complete criminal background checks. Any prior offenses will be considered by your home study worker and the court when determining your eligibility to adopt. However, a prior felony conviction will not necessarily disqualify you from adopting. Your home study worker and adoption agency may consider the nature of the felony, how long it’s been since the felony was committed, and other factors when accepting or denying your application to adopt.” (If a prospective adoptive parent has been convicted of child abuse, child neglect, spousal abuse, crimes against children, or homicide, they will not be permitted to adopt.) Hopeful adoptive parents should be aware that their agency of choice may have their own requirements that may be in addition to the state’s legal requirements.

Domestic Infant Adoption in Tennessee

Prior to a match and placement, prospective adoptive parents who desire to adopt an infant in Tennessee must follow a series of legal steps designed to thoroughly screen individuals and ensure the well-being of the infant. The first step is to choose an agency or adoption lawyer with whom you will work. Tennessee residents have the option to use a licensed facilitator to help them locate a child, but only if that service is provided at no additional cost. Only an agency or lawyer may actually place a child. These professionals will guide you through the process and make sure that everything is done in a timely manner up until finalization. Once you have selected a profession to facilitate your adoption, you will need to have a completed home study. In a home study, a licensed social worker will walk through your home and make sure that it meets the state’s requirements for safety and provision of the child. You will also need to submit financial and health documentation.

Once all criteria have been met, adoptive parents enter a “waiting” period where the wait for their lawyer or agency to find a match meets the desired specifications of the adoptive and birth families. Once a match has been made, prospective adoptive families may have to wait for the child to be born. They also may need to wait until a putative father registry is contacted if the birth father is unknown. According to this website on Tennessee state law, the earliest that “legal adoption proceedings may not begin until four days after the birth of the child.” Prior to this time, the birth mother may select a prospective adoptive family, but her legal rights as a “parent” do not take effect until after the four days have ended. Even after the fours are over, the birth mother has a ten-day revocation period in which she can choose to revoke the adoption plan.

Foster Parenting and Foster Care Adoption in Tennessee

According to tnallianceforkids.org, there is an average of 8,000 children in foster care across the state of Tennessee, but there are fewer than 4,000 foster families available to provide homes for foster children. The opioid crisis is one of the leading causes of parental right termination, and Tennessee has the 2nd highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the nation. “Since 2010, there has been a 51% increase in the number of parents whose parental rights have been terminated. In the same time period, there has been a 56% increase in the number of children waiting to be adopted…According to data from 2014, there are currently 864 children permanently residing in foster care where parental rights have been terminated. These children remain in foster care until they turn 18, unless adopted. Children over 8 years of age who are available for adoption have a 20% chance of being adopted, and most face ten more years in the foster care system before aging out.”

 Tennessee has four basic requirements for foster parenting and adopting from foster care. Foster parents must be at least 21 years old, be residents of the state of Tennessee, and have an approved home study. One requirement that differs from many other states is that the foster and foster-adoptive families must complete the “Parents as Tender Healers (PATH)” training before being licensed as a foster home. TN.gov defines PATH training as a program designed to teach foster parents “how to work with DCS to improve the lives of children, [give] information about current DCS policies on caring for children in custody, and ultimately [help families determine] if foster parenting is right for [them].” American Adoptions state that “in Tennessee, foster parents are given first preference for adopting their foster children, and about 80 percent of the children adopted from Tennessee foster care are adopted by their foster families. So, if you are interested in adopting a child from foster care, you may want to consider becoming a licensed foster parent first.”

International Adoption in Tennessee

Tennessee international adoption operates much like other states. It is very important to contact an adoption agency that specializes in international adoption so they can navigate you through the multiple layers that make up an international adoption. Once you choose an adoption agency, you should consider from which country you would like to adopt. Choosing to work with a country that participates in The Hague Convention will help to ensure that ethical guidelines established in 1993 to protect children adopted overseas are adhered to. You can adopt from non-Hague countries, but the process can be more complex. (For a further comparison of Hague vs non-Hague countries, please visit this web page.) Tennessee requires that international adoption applicants be at least 18 years old, but sexual orientation and marital status may vary from country to country, as will the procedures and requirements that an applicant must follow in order to adopt a child. An international adoption home study will require background checks, updated health and financial records, reference letters, and a personal statement about the reason you would like to adopt a child from another country. There are more steps, including a dossier, but an adoption agency will help you gather all the items that you will need to submit to the country from which you are hoping to adopt. This process can take over three months. Once the country and USCIS confirm your eligibility to adopt and your child’s adoption eligibility, you will need to file for a travel visa for your child. You may need to remain in the child’s birth country for several weeks or months, depending on the country. Once the visa is granted and you travel home to Tennessee, you may wish to “readopt” your child to help avoid potential travel, citizenship, or parentage problems later. The entire process of adopting internationally can take anywhere from 18 months to three years, depending on the country from which you plan to adopt.

Stepchild Adoption in Tennessee

Stepchild adoption is one of the most common forms of adoption in the United States. As the number of blended families is on the rise, more and more families are seeking to unify their status as a family by turning to stepchild adoption. They already live as a family with the stepparent co-parenting, but it makes sense to formalize the arrangement to give the stepparent a say in healthcare and education. Children over the age of 14 must give their consent to the adoption, and the absent biological parent must consent to relinquish his or her parental rights. Conditions, such as visitation and child support payment termination may be set as part of a termination agreement.

According to queencitylaw.com, the next step is to “complete a 30-hour parenting class that is mandatory for all prospective or foster parents. A home study is also required during which a social worker inspects your home and evaluates whether you meet the state’s definition of a suitable home. You can also expect to submit financial and medical records to the social worker. All of this applies even if your stepchild has been living with you for many years.” Once these steps have been completed, you may file your application to the court and wait for a hearing. The judge will consider the application, the social worker’s report, and the minor child’s statement. While children under 14 are not required to make a statement, the courts often give consideration to the child’s feeling about the adoption. For up to ten days after the hearing, other relatives have a chance to contest the adoption. However, once the ten days are past, the judge will make a ruling and finalize the adoption.

Adult Adoption in Tennessee

AdoptMidTN.com states that “Adult adoptions are a beautiful choice to affirm the relationship of parent and child. Sometimes adult adoptions are stepparent or grandparent adoptions. Other times, the adoptive parent(s) are not related by blood. None of the typical requirements such as a home study or waiting period apply in adult adoptions. The primary condition for an adult adoption is consent by the parties…For adoptions of individuals 21 years and younger, inheritance laws apply the same to an adult adoptee as a birth child.  However, if the adoptee is over 21 at the time of the adoption, the parents must specifically identify him or her by name in their will if they want the adoptee to be a beneficiary of their estate.”

A name change request can be submitted with the petition to adopt. As with all adoptions, a new birth certificate is created and shows the new parents’ names on the certificate. “Typically, the only court appearance is the final hearing. This day is special and usually involves some tears of joy and relief as the relationship of parent and child is finally acknowledged under the law after what is often many years of love and commitment. The simplicity of the process also allows adult adoptions to be relatively inexpensive.”

Embryo Adoption in Tennessee

The National Embryo Donation Center is located in Knoxville, TN. When couples are finished with IVF procedures, there are often remaining embryos. The embryos are frozen for future use, but if the family no longer needs them, they may be donated to families for adoption. Embryo donation “offers embryos the potential of life. It allows the [adoptive] mother the chance to carry her adopted child and control the prenatal environment.”

Tennessee has a relatively new embryo adoption law that gives assurance and legal protection to both the donor and the recipient. “The child is legally considered adopted and has the same rights, privileges, and protections as an adopted child. The adopting parents may (but are not required to obtain a final order of adoption. A written contract must be executed, transferring the ownership and parental rights of the embryo prior to the thawing and transfer of the embryo…The contracts take effect and become irrevocable at the time of the thawing of the embryo. Any visitation rights except in the case of ‘open embryo adoption’ are void and of no effect. The permission or agreement to permit visitation or contact in an open adoption does not establish any enforceable rights in the donor or other persons related to the child.”

Relative Adoption in Tennessee

Under Tennessee law, a relative is someone who is related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

According to this attorney, a relative “can be the child’s grandparents. Great-grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or great uncles, or stepparents, cousins of the first degree, or any sibling of the whole or half degree, and the spouse of a relative. The prospective adoptive parents must have primary care of the child whether through an informal family arrangement or through legal custody or guardianship. The prospective parents must be able to show that they can provide a safe home for the child until [he or she reaches] legal adulthood.”

The biological parents’ rights must be terminated, but the judge often does waive the home study and the six-month waiting period.

Hopefully, this gives you a good start on the path to your adoption journey in Tennessee. Good luck!