Selecting an Attorney to Represent You
Tennessee Foster Parents and the DCS
When foster parents adopt foster children from DCS, or an agency contracting from DCS, the foster parent is instructed to select an attorney around the time the child becomes free for adoption. So, congratulations if that is where you are in the process. It won’t be long now.
The attorney selected will represent the foster parents and should have a confidential relationship with the foster parents. For an adoption that you feel is solid and for a process that you direct, you need a lawyer that cares more about what you think and need than they do what DCS wants. You need a lawyer who will check DCS’ work to be sure the paperwork is solid. You need a lawyer who will move as quickly or as slowly as you want them to move. Some lawyers get most of their cases through referrals from DCS. Who do you think they will listen to if you and DCS get “crossways”?
Though Dawn loves working with foster families, because she handles all types of adoption cases, DCS is not a significant source of client referrals.
If Dawn is your attorney, your Adoption Day will not unfold in a great herd of adoptive families that you don’t know. If you want to be surrounded on that day, it will be with your own family and friends and Dawn will be pleased to take pictures.
Dawn will advocate for and be directed by you, individually, and you can rest in the knowledge that your child is with you permanently because Dawn took the time to ensure that your finalization is solid.
Foster Parents – Finally Adoption –
Attorney, Paperwork, Gotcha Day!
Fees When Foster Parents Hire Dawn
DCS will pay for Dawn to represent you in the adoption of a DCS foster child with DCS’ blessing.
But they will not pay for you to consult an attorney if the child is not free for adoption or if you are not the designated adoptive parents. If you are in the squeaky wheel phase, and your foster child is not on the verge of being free for adoption, you would hire Dawn to represent you for her usual hourly rate. When your case becomes an ordinary foster parent adoption with the blessing of DCS, Dawn can shift your case to state payment for “the fun part.” As you might expect, TN DCS won’t pay Dawn to question their approach.
If your foster child is free or almost free for adoption, and you are ready for an attorney to finalize the adoption, all you need to do is contact Dawn’s office and tell them you are ready to begin.
Here’s some general information for people at that point in the process:
- You get to pick your lawyer and the lawyer represents and reports to you.
- If your foster child is a special needs child as defined by DCS, and most foster children are, then the Department will pay for your lawyer to finalize the adoption, generally a flat rate fee of $1000 per child plus court costs and the birth certificate fee.
A Few Extras
When Dawn is paid by the state to represent you in an adoption, she also offers a few extras that you may not get with other attorneys:
- If you want, Dawn will conduct a basic review of your adoption assistance contract and discuss with you what it means.
- Dawn will conduct a general review of the termination of parental rights documents that DCS files with the adoption court to prove that your child is free to be adopted. Serious errors in these documents can be grounds to set aside your adoption even years after it is finalized. Some lawyers for adoptive parents do not even look at these documents. Others don’t have the expertise to identify a serious error if one exists. The majority of the time, the DCS documents are solid. Serious errors are rare. The security of your child warrants selecting a lawyer who will quickly and professionally check their work. Dawn will do what she would do if she were the adoptive parent. She will look at the documents and if there is a concern, she will call you about what you want to do next.
- Dawn offers an hour of professional time, at no charge to you, pre-adoption, and at your request to advise you on any adoption related legal matters. Foster families use this time to talk with Dawn about topics like, post adoption contact agreements, including PACAs for DCS adoptions, the viability of pending appeals, use of new names at school, access to the child’s pre-placement background or health information, adoption assistance a.k.a., adoption subsidy, etc.
For some foster families that expect the child to be free for adoption soon, with the Department’s blessing, the one hour free consultation is sufficient to address their pre-adoption concerns. If the Department does not support the adoption or that issue is undecided, Dawn represents foster parents on an hourly basis.
- A rubber duck at finalization that says, “Love and Congratulations from Dawn.” (and a hug too, if you are open to it and this pandemic will pass) While Dawn is on the legal security team, and takes that job very seriously, she never misses the magic of the heroic and exceptional people taking this giant life step together that she is allowed to witness with each adoption finalization.
If your child is almost available for adoption and you want to reach out to Dawn, you can, but don’t have to wait until the DCS adoption specialist tells you to get a lawyer.
Foster Parents Role in the Adoption Process
You don’t have to get down in the weeds of who does what to get your adoption finalized. Dawn does that. But some foster parents want to know what is going on behind the scenes, so here is it all broken down for you.
What is your role as a foster parent once the adoption process starts?
- Loving and caring for the child as if he or she were born to you.
- Selecting an attorney.
- Providing accurate case information to the attorney and advising the attorney about your preferred goals and timelines.
- Signing the adoption petition before a notary.
- Ensuring that the adoption assistance, if any, is adequate and that the contract is signed before the adoption (with the advice of the attorney if desired).
- Preparing the child for adoption and the finalization hearing. If the child is 14 years old or older, he or she will need to sign a consent, privately with the judge.
- Attend the finalization hearing. This is the fun part!
Your Attorney’s Role in the Adoption Process
- Prepare the adoption petition, file the case in the county where you live or where you direct, as permitted by law.
- Schedule hearings or pace the case at your direction and work toward your goals. i.e., quick finalization, more information, delay to get settled.
- Review documents for termination of the birth parents’ parental rights to ensure that your adoption is on a legally solid foundation.
- Answer your questions about what you are allowed to know about your child. Your attorney cannot keep secrets from you about your case.
- Keep you informed about the legal status and progress of your case.
- Answer your questions about adoption assistance (a.k.a., adoption subsidy) and review your contract if you desire.
- Prepare the final order of adoption, and schedule the final hearing at a time that is good for you and workable for others. Provide you and the agency notice of when the case is set for final hearing.
- Conduct your finalization hearing, obtain copies of the final order for you and the agency, and ensure that the birth certificate application is submitted.
What if a social worker wants to choose your attorney for you?
Does that feel off?
It is illegal for a DCS attorney to recommend or comment on attorneys providing legal services for adoption. T.C.A. 36-1-108(d)(2). But social workers do sometimes make recommendations, usually to attorneys who will not check their work closely or who will let the social worker control the location or pace of the case.
The Agency’s Role in the Finalization Process
What is DCS’ or a contract agency’s role in the adoption process?
- Identify the birth parents.
- Secure the termination of the birth parents’ parental rights.
- Obtain guardianship of the child.
- Select prospective adoptive parents and present them with information about the child.
- Complete and file with the court the home study and supervisory reports.
- Prepare the adoption assistance request and contract (if the child is eligible). Negotiate any disagreements regarding the terms of the contract.
- Prepare court reports and submit appropriate documents to court.
- Consent to adoption.
- Prepare the birth certificate application.
Dawn is Ready to Help with Your Tennessee DCS Adoption Case
If you are a Tennessee foster family beginning the adoption process or are otherwise in need of Tennessee legal services related to adoption: please contact Angela Cameron, paralegal, for information on scheduling an appointment or a telephone consultation.