Dear Adoption Judge…
Dear Adoption Judge: all of us at Abrazo are thankful for your thoughtful consideration on behalf of all the clients we serve, and we want you to know this.
We see you at least twice during each adoption we do. We typically see you once for the TPR (termination of parenting rights) hearing, and then we see you again, 6-18 months later, when our adopting parents come before you for the final adoption hearing (known in adoption parlance as “finalization day.)
Here in Bexar County, where Abrazo is located, our district court judges are elected, and at present, there are six male judges and nine female judges. All are good, fair jurists who consider the preponderance of evidence in making the best possible decision on behalf of the children in our care, and it is their approval that makes possible thousands of voluntary (and involuntary) adoptions for children in Bexar County each year.
The Termination Hearing
In Texas, the law does not require birthparents to appear in person for termination proceedings, so most often, the termination hearings for Abrazo’s cases are brief affairs (compared to the relinquishments that preceded them.) When we appear before the judge in termination suits, we are typically only called upon to answer for how we have addressed issues involving missing fathers or legal fathers who may be opposing an adoption plan. You rarely ask us questions about the birthmothers or their decisions, Dear Adoption Judge, but if you did, we would tell you what wrenchingly difficult choices these were for the first parents of each baby named in the legal papers we bring before you.
We would tell you about how much the birthmother loves the baby she is placing, how she propped the baby on her knees in her hospital bed for a heart-to-heart discussion of how much more she wanted for that child’s future; how she cuddled her baby close as much as she could in the time that she had; and how her tears fell on her legal documents as she signed them, so sure that she was making the best choice she could but so uncertain as to whether she could ever forgive herself for not being more ready to give that child everything in life.
We would share with you how carefully most birthmothers put their adoption plans together; how painstakingly they choose their babies’ new parents and get to know them before placement; and how deeply they treasure the opportunity to stay in contact with the adoptive family afterwards. since they know that Texas adoption law regrettably does not offer placing parents the protection of legally-enforceable post-adoption contact agreements.
We know that some of the birthparents we work with may have appeared on occasion before your fellow jurists in the Bexar County criminal court system or have had custody of their other children terminated in the Children’s Courts due to CPS involvement, but we want you to know that in no way reduces nor negates the magnitude of their voluntary choices on their baby’s behalf. It takes an enormous amount of courage and selflessness to sacrifice one’s own welfare on behalf of a child, and we hope, Your Honor, that you share our respect for them– whether or not you should ever cross paths.
The Adoption Hearing
The clients most judges do meet are our adopting parents, who must appear in court personally after the child being adopted has resided with them for 6-18 months. This is an exciting day for our adoptive families, and most judges tell us they enjoy these hearings, too, since it’s one of the few proceedings that civil court judges hear in which nobody is fighting over anything. More and more adoptive families are hiring special “A-Day” photographers to document the proceedings, and the local judiciary is usually more than happy to pose for photos with our clients, especially when copies of those photos get sent to the judge afterwards. Many of our local judges have private bulletin boards in their chambers with photos of the adoptions they’ve finalized, which touches our hearts.
The finalization proceedings are usually far more brief than adoptive parents expect. The adoptive couple gets put under oath, the agency attorney asks a few basic questions of them, the judge reviews the legal documents, and then after a question or two of his/her own, signs the order, making the adoptive couple the “official” and permanent parents of the child being adopted.
It’s that “question or two” that we would humbly ask you to consider, dear adoption judge. All too often, it seems that the judges are not certain what to say or how to say it, so many judges crack an awkward joke about “you know you can’t give (the child) back when it’s time to pay their car insurance, right?” or they say “there are no give-backs if this kid gets in trouble later on, you know that, right?” We understand that the judge is trying to put everyone at ease, but we always cringe at these quips, because the joke implies that some adopting parents’ commitment is conditional, which one surely hopes is not true after all this couple has gone through in order to adopt in the first place, and because all parents (whether by birth or adoption) still have the legal option of forfeiting their responsibilities– judicial admonition or not.
So Dear Adoption Judge, if you’re ever struggling to know what to say to the adoptive parents before you on this day that they will never ever forget, how about saying something instead like “I know you went through a lot to get to this day, and I hope this is just the beginning of a wonderful future for both of you and your child,” or “I order you to raise this child to become a happy, healthy citizen who will forever respect all of his parents and the sacrifices they’ve all made on his behalf” or “may your family’s commitment to each other’s needs always be as filled with the same kind of hope, love and joy that I see before me today.”
And again, Your Honor, we want you to know how sincerely we appreciate all you do to help make adoptions happen. We hope you know that the part you play (in our terminations as well as our adoptions) helps to secure the future of children who have no say in the matter, yet whose destiny is undoubtedly and forever shaped by your signature.
The truth is that agencies like Abrazo couldn’t do the work we do on behalf of children without your approval, Dear Adoption Judge, so we are grateful for your wisdom and your authority in making all of our adoptions possible, and we hope you know this.