Oklahoma lawmakers study difficulties of grandparents getting custody of grandchildren

Oklahoma is among the leaders in states where grandparents are raising their grandchildren, according to census figures.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: October 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm •  Published: October 19, 2012
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Robert Stein said he didn't plan on raising his granddaughter.

But he and his wife, Debra, have been taking care of their 8-year-old granddaughter, Joelynn, all of her life except for about five months she lived with his daughter.

Stein, of Lawton, said his daughter, who lives in Kentucky, made what he called some bad choices and she didn't object when her parents became legal guardians of her daughter about three years ago.

Stein, 53, told members of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Thursday he and his wife want to adopt Joelynn, but the steep cost of paying attorney fees, even in an uncontested adoption, were prohibitive. He said he's been told it could cost $15,000 in attorney fees, while a home study costs about $750 and background checks could run $500 to $800.

“I would like to see it made easier,” said Stein, a computer security expert.

His daughter isn't planning to contest the adoption and his granddaughter, who calls him “Papa,” seems to welcome the adoption.

“She loves living with us,” Stein said. “She likes the stability of living with us.”

Adjusting the laws

Lawyers specializing in adoptions told the committee little changes could be made in state adoption laws because parents have federal constitutional rights. But they suggested that legislators could lower or reduce the annual $100 fee legal guardians have to pay when filing required reports with local court officials.

Rep.-elect Jon Echols, an attorney whose firm handles mostly contested adoptions, encouraged committee members to find ways to help the increasing number of grandparents in the state who are raising their grandchildren.

“I have yet to meet a grandparent that planned on raising their grandchildren,” he said. “That was nobody's plan ... so when they do it, they're parents again.”

Echols, a Republican from Oklahoma City who was elected without opposition this year and will take his oath of office after next month's elections, complimented grandparents who stepped up to the challenge of taking care of their grandchildren.

“You're standing in the gap when others won't for these children,” he said. “Most of them are entitled to child support from the parents — well, good luck.

“These grandparents and these other guardians, not just grandparents, are saving the state huge amounts of money because they are taking care of these children that we would be taking care of,” he said. “They're the ones keeping these children out of jail.”

Steven Kerr, an Oklahoma City attorney specializing in adoptions, said he's noticed a steady increase in the number of grandparents adopting their grandchildren in the past several years.

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