State ranks high
Oklahoma is among the top states where grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Figures from the 2010 census show 79,580 children, or 8.6 percent of the children in the state, live in grandparent-headed households. That is up from 57,601, or 6.5 percent of children in the state, living with their grandparents, according to 2000 census information. The 2005 census estimate showed 71,850 Oklahoma grandparents were living with their grandchildren.
Kerr said adoption cases are among the most difficult for lawyers. A case may start out uncontested, but a parent or another grandparent could object after the case is started.
“There is no type of case that is more fraught with danger for an attorney than an adoption case because when things go wrong they go terribly wrong,” he said. “We're also at the mercy of the truthfulness of not only our clients, but perhaps the birth father, the grandparents, the adoptive parents, and we can get caught in the middle of the biggest mess you've ever seen.”
He said the high cost of adoption is partially because it involves terminating a parent's custodial rights, which is a lengthy and involved process. Guardianship cases cost about $2,000 and contested adoption cases can cost $30,000 or more.
Attorney David Echols, whose Oklahoma City practice specializes in family law, said adoption cases take time because they include careful due-process requirements and procedures. Those seeking adoptions should make sure the final order meets the technical requirements.
“You want that adoption decree to be as solid and as unattackable as possible,” said David Echols, Jon Echols' father. “Believe me, if it's not done right it can be attacked, and probably successfully.”
Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, who requested Thursday's interim study, said lawmakers should consider finding ways to help grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. They are saving the state money because in some instances those children otherwise would be placed in state custody.
“Drugs and alcohol are the bane of our existence and are just causing so many problems with users becoming parents and not being able to take care of their children,” Coody said. “They're just not able and fortunately some of them have parents themselves who are able and who have enough love in their hearts that they're able to take care of those children.”