Adopting a child is one of the most rewarding opportunities in a family’s and a child’s life. It can also be a daunting and scary process, even for the most hopeful prospective parents. Many people have the perception that adoption is “really expensive” or “too hard to qualify,” so they often find themselves quitting before they even begin the process.
As a non-profit agency that provides equity and access to justice to low-income residents of Story County, this is especially true for our clients. The emotional, practical, and financial resources that are often required to successfully complete an adoption is especially overwhelming to those who struggle to support their families day in and day out.
Because of the systemic and often invisible barriers that our clients face, our ability to assist them in matters relating to the adoption process are few and far between. This is why the Legal Aid Society of Story County is so honored that we were given the privilege to assist a client with such a case earlier this fiscal year.
Our client, a grandmother who, along with her husband, had been the sole caretakers of their young granddaughter since her birth six months prior, applied for services with our office in the hopes of establishing a guardianship. This would allow them to become the child’s legal guardians. At the time, she knew she and her husband wanted to adopt their granddaughter in the future but did not entertain the possibility right not because of the time it would take, the money it would cost, and the hoops she would have to jump through to accomplish such a feat. However, after meeting with our client, we realized that an adoption, not a guardianship, was what this family needed. While a guardianship can be an extremely powerful and important tool in establishing temporary or long-term stability for a child living outside of their parents’ care, particularly during a period where the parents are attempting to rectify the issues that have prevented them from having the ability to care for their child’s needs, it is not an ideal solution for every situation or family.
Legally, a guardianship does not automatically terminate the established parents’ parental rights of the child who is under a guardianship. This legal reality can cause anxiety for caregivers and families alike who are looking to establish permanency for the child at issue, as was the case in this situation.
We assisted our client in filing a petition to terminate parental rights and petition for an adoption. This process allowed our client to adopt her granddaughter through an expedited process based upon her familial status. Our client was ecstatic to learn that she could bypass a guardianship and proceed straight to an adoption, as this was what the child’s biological parents wanted for the child as well.
After the court terminated the biological parents’ parental rights, an adoption hearing was set. The entire family, including the biological mother, were in attendance when our client officially and legally adopted her granddaughter. The judge happily signed the final adoption order and took pictures with the family, who joyfully celebrated the outcome.
While our client was incredibly thankful for and empowered by the assistance that the Legal Aid Society of Story County provided to her and her family, we too are equally grateful that she trusted us to help her dismantle the barriers that have stopped so many people, especially those who lack adequate access to justice, from adopting. The opportunity to participate in such a heartwarming and meaningful legal matter was an absolute honor for our entire office.
But for community partners, like United Way, who help provide financial support to the Legal Aid Society of Story County, our ability to serve the residents of Story County and administer legal services that help to alleviate the barriers of poverty and provide equity and access to justice to our most vulnerable citizens would not be possible.
Funds through United Way of Story County support Legal Aid Society of Story County to
provide access to justice for people who would otherwise not be able to afford an attorney.