When you need a lawyer, you may not even know where to begin. There are so many lawyers out there. We see ads on billboards, in magazines, online and on TV. But how do you determine which attorney is the best fit for you?  If you find yourself facing a divorce or a lawsuit involving your children, you need a family law attorney. There are many wonderful family law attorneys in Collin County and Denton County, but it’s important that you find an attorney that is right for you. As family law attorneys, we handle cases very dear to our clients: cases involving children, families, adoptions, terminations, etc. It is absolutely critical that clients interview attorneys until they find the right fit for them. Just like one key doesn’t fit every lock, one attorney is not the right fit for every client.

Finding a great attorney

So with all of the options out there, how can you find a great attorney?  In addition to researching an attorney online, personal referrals and referrals from attorneys in other areas of law are two great options.

Personal referrals – Talk to people in your community, including friends and family. They may have been in your shoes and know an attorney that they highly recommend. Ask specific questions about any attorneys they refer to you. Get as much information about each referral as possible, narrow down the list based on what you are looking for and then meet or talk with with at least one attorney yourself to see if you agree that he or she will be the right fit.

Lawyer referrals – Another good way to find a great lawyer is to ask another lawyer. You may know a lawyer who handles corporate law but not one who handles family law. Ask that corporate lawyer. That lawyer will almost certainly know some excellent family lawyers. The attorneys at The Draper Law Firm, PC pride ourselves on referring our clients to attorneys in other areas who have integrity and who will be great advocates for their clients.  We want to send people to attorneys who we know will take good care of them, and we know most other attorneys feel the same.

What should you look for when choosing an attorney?

Attorneys are definitely not one-size-fits-all.  There are a number of factors that may go into deciding which attorney is right for you.

Attorney Philosophy – Finding an attorney with a great general philosophy for handling your types of cases is one of the most important things you can do.  Does the attorney prefer to start amicable to try and reach agreements whenever possible?  Or does the attorney start aggressive and prefer addressing things in court?  The attorney’s philosophy is so important when deciding if that attorney can help you meet your goals, and certain philosophies tend to be a lot more expensive in the long run than others.

Size of Firm – The size of the firm may be an important factor in your decision.  Larger firms tend to have more support staff, fancier offices, and partners with lots of litigating experience, but larger firms (especially those experienced partners) usually come with a higher price tag.  Smaller firms and solo attorneys may or may not have just as much experience and may or may not provide more personal service.  Ask your potential attorney about his or her experience and how other attorneys and support staff in the firm may be involved in your case.

Communication – You have to be able to trust that your family law attorney has your best interest at heart. When the need for a difficult conversation arises, your attorney should be able to deliver the news in a way that resonates with you and take time to thoroughly explain the situation. Communication is key! You want to find an attorney who will communicate with you in a way that is effective, who truly listens to you, and who keeps you updated about what is going on in your case.

A good attorney will advocate for you and focus on your best interests and your goals.  By doing your due diligence, you can find an attorney that will be the best fit for you.

The Draper Firm

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At The Draper Law Firm, we love adoptions!  One of the adoptions we often see involves a step-parent adopting the biological child of his or her spouse.  There are a couple of questions I immediately ask when someone inquires about a step-parent adoption:  (1)  What is the status of the other biological parent? and (2) If that biological parent is alive and hasn’t had rights terminated already, will that parent voluntarily relinquish parental rights?

In order to proceed with a step-parent adoption, the biological parent who is not involved must either be deceased, have had his or her rights terminated, or have his or her rights terminated prior to the step-parent adoption.  We generally do the termination and adoption in one proceeding, and they are often both handled in the same final  hearing.  The process is extremely easy if the biological parent will sign an affidavit voluntarily relinquishing parental rights.  (This post will not go into the process to terminate if that does not happen.)

In addition to terminating the biological parent’s rights, the step-parent will need to complete a criminal background check.  This is now generally done electronically, and the results come back quite quickly.  The step-parent will also need to complete an adoption home study.  The home study involves an added expense outside of attorney’s fees.  For the home study, the step-parent, spouse and child will meet with the evaluator and have a home visit.  They will also provide collateral references in support of the adoption.

Sometimes an attorney ad litem is appointed to represent the child in the case.  The court has the discretion to waive the ad litem if the judge feels the child’s best interests are adequately protected by the parties.  We have always requested that the court waive the requirement of an ad litem for the child in step-parent adoption cases, and that request has always been granted.

Once the background check and home study are complete, we prepare a final order and go finalize the adoption.   The child comes to the final hearing, and the judge will always participate in taking pictures with the family to help celebrate the occasion.

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Many people ask how to terminate the rights of a parent or how to proceed with a step-parent adoption. Before a step-parent can adopt a child, the biological parent’s rights must be terminated. It is important to remember that a biological parent should have the opportunity to build a relationship with their child and a court may give a parent that opportunity even after a petition for termination is filed. There are many steps involved with terminating a parent’s legal right to their child, including requirements that the parent be personally served and have the opportunity to respond.

The Texas Family Code sets out specific grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship. A parent’s rights can be terminated for a number of reasons, including leaving the child in the care of another for at least six months without adequate support. Rights may also be terminated if a parent knowingly allowed the child to be somewhere which endangered the physical or emotional well-being of the child. The most common avenue for termination we see in step-parent adoptions is for the biological parent to sign an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights.  This is not a complete list of the grounds for termination.

In order to proceed with the adoption, the step-parent needs to complete a background check.  This involves going to the closest facility that does fingerprint background checks for DPS.  The results usually come back within a week or two.  The family will also need to participate in an adoption evaluation prior to finalizing the step-parent adoption.  Contact The Draper Law Firm, PC if you would like more information on step-parent adoption or terminating a parent’s rights.

(Blog post by Soheyla Dixon and Holly Draper)

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Many times a child has little to no relationship with a biological parent but has a wonderful relationship with a step-parent. In those situations, many families consider having the step-parent adopt the child.  In order to complete a step-parent adoption, the rights of the biological parent must first be terminated.  (This can be done in the same proceeding as the adoption.)

If the bio parent is agreeable to the termination, this is a very easy and quick process. The relinquishing bio parent must simply sign an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights, to be filed with the petition for termination and step-parent adoption.  When there is a step-parent ready to step in to adopt the child, the court will almost universally approve the termination.  With most adoptions, a social study and a guardian ad litem or amicus attorney (an attorney appointed to represent the best interests of the child) are required.  However, with a step-parent adoption, you may ask the court to waive one or both of these requirements.  The step-parent must still complete a background check.  Once all paperwork has been completed, the non-terminating bio parent, the step-parent and the child will appear in court to finalize the adoption with a short prove-up hearing.

After the terminating bio parent signs an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights, that parent is generally no longer entitled to notice of anything that goes on in the proceeding.  That parent will not receive any order of termination or adoption or ever even get confirmation that it happened.

If the bio parent is not willing to voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights, the process can be much more difficult.  The parent who is attempting to terminate the other parent’s rights could have a long, uphill battle trying to prove that the bio parent’s rights should be terminated.  The step-parent cannot adopt unless the court first finds that sufficient grounds exist to terminate the bio parent’s rights.

Paternity

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I love adoptions!  They are one of my absolute favorite things in the world, and I am always so excited when I get to play some small role in adoptions.  Many people choose to adopt from foreign countries.  When that happens, the actual adoption takes place in the foreign country.  Sometimes that adoption involves a name change and sometimes it does not.

After a foreign adoption is finalized and a child moves with his or her new parents to the United States, it is common practice to register the foreign order of adoption here.  In Texas, the process is quite simple.  You file a Petition for Registration of Foreign Order of Adoption.  Attached to the petition are affidavits from both parents and copies of the birth certificate, foreign order of adoption, and proof of immigration status.  If the child’s name was not changed in the foreign adoption, the petition can include a request for a name change.  Then we submit an Order Recognizing Foreign Order of Adoption (and Name Change, if applicable).  Many courts will sign off on the Order without a hearing, so the process can often be completed without ever setting foot in a courtroom.

Once the Order is signed, the parents can send a certified copy to the Bureau of Vital Statistics to obtain a new birth certificate.  The parents should get several certified copies that can be used for obtaining a new passport, social security card, etc.

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