I recently spoke at a continuing legal education seminar sponsored by the Missouri Bar on the subject of adoptions. Adoptions are yet another mechanism of establishing custody for children, even though many people do not think of adoptions as child custody cases. There were numerous issues discussed regarding adoptions given that the audience was lawyers. This particular seminar dealt with adoptions involving the Missouri Department of Social Services through Children’s Division, or another of its contracting agencies such as Every Child’s Hope or Great Circle.
One of topics of discussion involved proceeding with an adoption without having first terminated the parental rights of the biological parents. While this process is available under Missouri law, apparently not every county in Missouri makes a practice of allowing an adoption to proceed without having first obtained a judgment terminating the parents’ rights.
Chapter 453 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri specifies that “A decree of adoption for a minor child makes the child, also known as the ‘adoptee,’ the child of the petitioner(s) for all legal intents and purposes.” §453.080.3 RSMo. Consent of a parent is not required to an adoption when a parent has abandoned a child. Therefore, an adoption can proceed on grounds of abandonment even without a TPR Judgment or signed consents to the adoption.
The adoption itself is the termination of parental rights. But, the right circumstances must also exist to proceed with an adoption in this manner. Have the biological parents had any contact with the child? How long has the child gone without any contact from the parents? If the parents have had some contract, but the contact is inconsistent and infrequent, does the limited contact still meet the criteria for abandonment? Abandonment is based upon the factual circumstances that exist in each case.
At the adoption hearing, evidence will have to be presented in support of the abandonment. The caseworker can usually supply sufficient testimony for the court to find abandonment, but I also proffer evidence through my client’s testimony.