As you can tell, we've been there a lot lately.
I'm going to use the Foster Parent Friday to give you an update on how we are and what's been going on. Let's continue, shall we?
Q: What happens in a case after termination?
A: Nothing. Or, at least that's what's happened around here.
No, seriously though, in general after transition the state is supposed to find a permanent placement and finalize that placement as soon as they can that is healthy for the children. First that is adoption (with a family member or non-relative), then they go for permanent managing conservatorship (with a family member or non-relative), or if needed a permanent foster home where the child is expected to age out. This is an oversimplified version of what happens because it isn't where I'm headed with this post. Maybe I'll write more about it later.
In our case the plan has always been non-relative adoption (with us). In the state of Texas (and most states as far as I'm aware), there are two major requirements that delay adoption. First, the children have to be legally free. Second, the children have to have lived in the home with their caregiver for 6 months. Both of these requirements must be in place before adoption is really an option.
Status #1- 6 months in our home
All of our children have been with us now for 6 months. At the time of termination (December), the three older children were with us exactly 6 months and the baby almost a year. The baby has now been with us for 16 months (his whole life) and the older children have been with us for 10 months. (It's crazy how time flies). Therefore, when the termination trial occurred and termination was granted the children had been in our home long enough to adopt them already. This is not always the case, as in children who are placed for adoption after they are legally free (common in adoptions from adoptUSkids.com or domestic infant adoptions).
Status #2 - Legally Free
In order for the children to be legally free for adoption, no other parent or individual can have parental rights to the children. In our case there were 4 individuals who had parental rights that needed to be terminated before adoption could occur. There were the two biological parents and then two relatives who had been given permanent managing conservatorship over the children before they came to our home. Therefore, all of their rights to the children had to be terminated before proceeding. At trial, one parent and one relative voluntarily relinquished rights to the children. One parent and one relative refused to relinquish and let the judge decide. At the end the judge decided to accept the relinquishment for those who offered it and terminated on those who didn't. In our state, voluntarily relinquishment is irrevocable and permanent meaning in cases where both parents relinquish (or all 4, in our case), the children are legally free immediately. When rights are involuntarily terminated though, the party is allowed an appeal period. In our state there is a 90-day appeal period. In our case, the one parent (and possibly the relative who did not relinquish) are granted a 90-day appeal period to attempt to get the decision overturned. Only after the 90-day period has ended (without an appeal) or after all appeals are exhausted are the children considered legally-free.
There is one other component that needs to be considered as well with or without the 90-day appeal period. Other relatives or people considered to have significant relationship with the child (neighbors, teachers, etc.) have a period after termination to intervene in the case and attempt to get custody. I believe this period is 30 days but it may be 45 or 60. This means that even when both parents sign an irrevocable relinquishment everything is not "done" - a potential adoptive family still has to hold their breath and wait out the additional 30 (?) days to see if a relative jumps in to take the children.
With our case being as it is we are subject to the 90 day appeal period. Because termination happened in December we figured the children would be legally free in March and the adoption would be as early as late-March or more likely April.
We were wrong.
What we didn't realize was that the 90-day appeal period starts when the FINAL ORDER is signed. This is the paperwork that summarizes the parties in the case and the judges ruling. For perspective here, in our adoption our attorney had a petition to the court written up with all of the information that later went into the final order so that after the adoption was complete the judge signed the final order our attorney had written for her and it was done then and there. Understandably in a termination trial they may not have the final order written in advance because they don't truly know what the judge will say so, as I understand it, it typically takes 1-2 weeks to get the final order signed. I wish I would have known that but in the grand scheme of things another 2 weeks wouldn't have been a big deal.
So there we are, hanging out literally counting down the days with our kids. We gave them general things to watch for to know when adoption would be getting closer (their birthdays, Easter, etc.). It wasn't until Mid-February when we were "2/3s of the way through our 90 day period" that the shoe dropped...not only did we have to wait until the final order was signed before the countdown begin, the final order HADN'T EVEN BEEN WRITTEN!!! This was devastating news and really hard to swallow.
It took another month for the final order to be written, circulated to all the parties, and signed. We were told that due to the complexities of this case, how long it had gone on, the fact that there were actually 2 cases, the type of settlement agreement we have with the parent who relinquished, and other factors they were waiting on the top person to right the order (from scratch) instead of using a junior-level associate who would have used a common form. They wanted to get it right. Getting it right meant an additional 90-day wait for us and our kids.
Now we are waiting for the 90 day period to expire which should be sometime in June. There are a few process pieces that cannot be done toward the adoption until the children are legally free (such as negotiating subsidy and setting a court date). Some things can be done now, like getting our updated homestudy completed.
With all of this in mind we think we're looking at finalization in August, maybe July. We're eager to get there, for all of our sake(s). Our family is ready to be "official" and done with the system. No more med logs. No more locking up the toilet bowl cleaner if I don't want to, and no more policies against co-sleeping. No more approval for haircuts or travel out of state. No more restrictions on who I can and can't let into my house or have spend the night or have babysit my children. It will be our choice because we will be their legitimate parents. We're not holding our breath but we are hoping it's smoother sailing from here.
That's where we are. Still alive. Still kicking. More busy than ever. Still happy we said yes.