In all cases but one, the rights of both parents must be terminated before a third party can adopt a child

Last month, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a termination of parental rights decision by the Warren County Chancery Court that terminated only the mother’s parental rights and allowed the child to be adopted by the paternal grandmother.  In other words, the trial court’s ruling created an “incesty” situation where the child’s parents were his father and his father’s mother.  If you’re thinking, “Surely, the law doesn’t allow this,” you are right.

Subject to one exception, the domestic relations statute requires that the rights of both parents must be terminated before a third party becomes eligible to adopt the child:

[T]he legal parents, guardian of the person of the child or of an adult, the biological mother, and the established father or putative father of the child must be made parties to the adoption proceeding or to a separate proceeding seeking the termination of those rights, and their rights to the child must be terminated by a court to authorize the court to order the adoption of the child or adult by other persons.

T.C.A. § 36-1-117.  The only exception to the above rule is for stepparent adoption:

[W]here the stepparent of a stepchild seeks to adopt a stepchild, the cosigning of the petition by the child’s parent who is the spouse of the petitioner shall not affect the existing parent/child legal relationship between that parent and the parent’s child who is the subject of the adoption petition by the stepparent of the child.

The last time I checked, while sexual mores are loosening, incest is still (thankfully) illegal.  The grandmother in this case couldn’t be the child’s stepparent, although I seriously doubt she was wanting to be.  Regardless, since she was not the child’s stepparent and her own son’s rights were not terminated, she had no standing to adopt her grandson.  Therefore, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of standing.

In re Lyric A., No. M2015-02468-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 12, 2017)

P.S. In Tennessee, first cousin sexual relationships aren’t incestuous, see T.C.A. § 39-15-302, and first cousins can marry, see T.C.A. § 36-3-101.

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