Adoption is the act by which an adult formally becomes the guardian of a child and obtains the rights and responsibilities of a parent. At the end of the formal process, a legal relationship between child and guardian will have been established. The legal relationship results in the adoptee becoming the legal heir of the adopter and terminating any legal rights then in existence with the natural parents.

Although adoptions have been under the sphere of state authority, Congress has utilized its spending power to have some influence over state adoption programs. Under this program, Congress grants money to the states to carry out their programs if they accept to abide by certain Congressional mandates.

States differ about factors they consider as disqualifying one’s ability to adopt. For instance, some statutes disqualify unmarried or single individuals. Others disqualify those suffering from physical or mental disabilities. Some states have imposed “reputability requirements.” Under a reputability requirement, individuals who have criminal histories or employment instability would not qualify as suitable for adoption.

To proceed, an individual cannot petition for adoption unless the court makes an official finding that the individual is “acceptable” as an adoptive parent. Before an adoption becomes finalized, the court must pass upon an investigatory report submitted by the state agency that the individual qualifies as “acceptably suitable” for being an adoptive parent. These investigatory reports are tremendously detailed, including the petitioners’ religious backgrounds, social history, financial status, moral fitness, mental and physical fitness, and criminal background.

After weighing the components, the agency renders a recommendation, which the court can accept or reject, with the court basing its decision on serving the best interests and welfare of the child.

What is the Procedure for Adoption?

The Cornell Law research on law states that if an individual is wishing to adopt must petition the court to grant adoption, present evidence that they have satisfied the necessary statutory elements. After an investigation is complete, the state adoption agency presents its report of the petitioners to the court and prepares a recommendation.

When the statute requires their consent, the due process allows the natural parents an opportunity to be heard by the court on the matter. If the court cannot locate the natural parents, the court must take steps reasonably calculated to notify the parents about the termination proceeding.

However, in situations in which the natural parent cannot or does not want to care for the child, the natural parent’s wishes for the child’s placement receive significant weight from the court.

Keep in mind that the petitioner bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that adoption is in the child’s best interests. An adoptive parent seeking to terminate the biological parents’ natural rights must show the action to be in the child’s best interest by “clear and convincing evidence.”

What Occurs in An Adoption Case?

As mentioned, state laws may vary regarding adoption cases. For example, an adoption case in Ohio can be created for a child when the agency receives permanent custody and the agency’s legal status of “Permanent Custody” has been recorded in the child’s court record. Once the adoption case has been formed, each child in the adoption case is deactivated from the original family case and progressed into the adoption case.

For a sibling group of two or more children, you can create one or multiple adoption cases:

  • One adoption case with all sibling members;
  • One adoption case for each sibling; or
  • Any combination of adoption cases.

The adoption case has only the adoptive child(ren). It authorizes you to track the activities related to finalizing a child’s adoptive placement, such as recruitment efforts to find a permanent home, case plans, pre-adoptive staffing and matching conferences, and the updated Child Study Inventory (CSI).

Once you have determined that an adoption case will be created for a child, you have a proposed case plan in the original case. No adult is a participant in this case plan. If a sibling group is being adopted, be sure to determine how many adoption cases will be developed. A case may be generated for each child, or one case may be created for all the siblings, with the oldest sibling identified as the case reference person (CRP). You will need to create a proposed case plan for each adoption case. Visiting the local state website on adoption can help with understanding the basics of the process.

What are the Different Types of Adoptions?

The types of adoptions may vary by state. For instance, Maryland has three types of adoptions, Public Agency Adoption, Private Agency Adoption, and Independent Adoption:

  • Public Agency Adoption is filed by the department of social services after parental rights have been terminated.
  • Private Agency Adoption is filed by a private adoption agency that has identified a child available for adoption, and who has identified a family willing and able to adopt the child.
  • Independent Adoption is usually filed by a private party. This type of adoption is frequently filed by a stepparent or co-parent who would like to adopt his or her partner’s child.

In all types of adoption cases, if the natural parents can be discovered, they will be asked if they consent to the adoption. If they do not agree, they can file an objection to the adoption. Thorough investigations may be conducted and many documents must be filed with the court. This enables the court to infer what is best for the child. The court will then hold a hearing and determine whether to grant the adoption.

The process and requirements in adoption cases are complex. Consider having a lawyer represent you if you are thinking about filing an independent adoption, or adoption in a Maryland court that involves a child who is not a citizen of the United States. For example, a legal adoption process in Maryland does not automatically result in permanent resident or citizen status for a foreign-born child.

Side note, parents may have a right to a lawyer if they cannot afford one. An attorney will be appointed for them in cases where the state is requesting to terminate their parental rights, or in public agency adoptions where their rights have not yet been terminated and the agency is pursuing their consent. In private agency adoptions, the court is required to appoint a lawyer, regardless of income, for a parent who is a minor, or who has a disability that would make it difficult to represent themselves.

Furthermore, children have a right to have a court-appointed lawyer of their own in termination of parental rights cases as well. This is generally the same lawyer who represented the child in the original child abuse or neglect case. In a private agency adoption, the child has a right to have counsel if the child is at least 10 years old and is either a minor or has a disability. In independent adoptions, the child has a right to an attorney if he or she is at least 10 years old and has a disability.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

Adoption can become challenging to navigate independently but with the help of a local adoption attorney, you can receive the assistance you need.