Children and adults who are adopted are given the extraordinary gift of a parent or parents who choose them. Adoptive parents believe they have been given the extraordinary gift of a child. Through adoption, families are made or they grow, and they experience a range of emotions during a rigorous process designed to ensure that the best interests of adoptees are served.

At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, I help families navigate the legal and emotional process of adoption in Chattanooga and surrounding areas in Tennessee including Hamilton, Bradley, and Marion, Sequatchie, and Rhea counties.

Types of Adoption

There are six types of adoption in the State of Tennessee:

  1. In a state agency adoption, the Department of Children’s Services handles the termination of parental rights and typically retains guardianship of the child until the adoption is finalized.

  2. In a private adoption, adoptive parents work primarily with an attorney throughout the process.

  3. In international adoption, adoptive parents work with an agency to obtain guardianship of a child in another country. Adoptions not finalized in the foreign country must be completed in Tennessee.

  4. Adoption by a step-parent requires that the other biological parent terminate parental rights so the step-parent becomes the child’s legal parent. If the couple divorces, the step-parent is entitled to all of the rights of a parent, including custody and visitation.

  5. Adoption of an adult formalizes an existing relationship, offers a path for an inheritance, or provides full legal responsibility for an incapacitated adult.

Gestational surrogacy is when the married couple intending to be parents contribute the eggs and sperm to be carried by another woman. In traditional surrogacy, the father contributes the sperm to fertilize another woman so she can carry and deliver the baby.

The type of adoption you choose depends on the needs and situation of your family. The process for each is very different and may influence your decision.



Tennessee Adoption Laws

Persons age 18 and older, whether single, married, divorced, widowed or members of the LGBTQ community, are eligible to adopt if they have been Tennessee residents for at least six consecutive months. The residency requirement may be waived in some cases of deployed military parents. If the adoptive parents are married, both must appear on the petition unless one spouse is incompetent. Adoptive parents must be committed to the process, able to care for the adoptee, and have sufficient financial means.

Any child or adult may be adopted; however, anyone 14 years of age or older must provide consent.

Both the birth mother and biological father, if known, must consent to termination of their parental rights, even if the biological father’s name did not appear on the birth certificate.

Overview of the Adoption Process

The birth mother maintains guardianship of a newborn for four days at which time the adoptive parents can obtain an order of guardianship and a power of attorney for medical purposes. If the birth mother surrenders the child after the four-day period, the adoptive parents must file a petition for adoption. The birth mother has 10 more days to change her mind after which her decision to terminate her parental rights becomes irrevocable. There is a statute of limitations of one year from the date of the final adoption decree for the adoption to be challenged on legal grounds.

All prospective adoptive parents must undergo a home study conducted by a licensed agency or social worker. The home study must have been completed or updated within six months of filing the adoption petition.

In addition to the home study, adoptive parents must complete a course such as Parents As Tender Healers (PATH), a 23-hour self-assessment, and a parental education program. It covers topics such as grief and loss, communication skills, and addressing certain family situations.

Prospective adoptive parents will choose the type of adoption they wish to pursue and work with an attorney to facilitate the legal process.

Your Family Law Attorney’s Role

Adoption is a highly involved, emotionally charged process. An experienced family law attorney will help you make key decisions every step of the way, including choosing what type of adoption you want to pursue, preparing for the home study, filing court documents in a timely manner, and keep the process moving. Agency representatives, social workers, and others involved in the process are there to advocate for the child or adult being adopted. Your family law attorney is there to represent you and your interests.


Understanding the nuances of Tennessee adoption laws requires an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney. At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, I have helped clients in Chattanooga and surrounding communities realize their dream of adopting a child or adult. I can help you, too. If you’re considering adoption, please call today to schedule a consultation.