Adoption refers to a process that requires court approval in order for an adult to become the legal guardian of a child that is not their biological child. Each state has its own requirements and conditions that prospective parents must meet before the adoption can take place. Both public and private agencies offer adoption services, but adoption can also take place through a completely private process that does not involve an agency at all.
The purpose of adoption is to establish a formal, legal parent-child relationship. The adopted child is granted all rights as if they were their adoptive parents’ biological child. These rights include child support and custody obligations and other rights in the event of a divorce. These rights also include inheritance rights under the laws of intestacy, or a will or trust. Through the adoption process, the parental rights and obligations are transferred from the child’s existing legal or biological parents to the adoptive parents.
The adoption process ultimately consists of obtaining court approval to adopt the child, and can be further broken down as:
- A petition for adoption is filed with a family court;
- The adoptive parents provide required notice of the petition to all legally interested parties, such as the birth parents; and
- A hearing in which the adoptive parents appear before a judge and plead their case for adoption approval.
Whether an adoption is approved is dependent upon the prospective parent’s eligibility to adopt a child. Eligibility laws vary by state, and if the adoption is from an international agency, the laws will also vary by country. Additionally, certain agencies may have their own set of eligibility criteria for the prospective parents to meet. The adopting party may be an individual, or a married couple.
In general, any person may adopt a child as long as they meet the following general guidelines:
- They are financially capable of supporting a child;
- They have saved enough money to cover the cost of the adoption;
- They are of legal age and are capable of making legal decisions;
- They have a generally good background, such as no serious criminal record;
- They have a home that is safe and clean, in order to accomodate the needs of a child; and
- They are in good health with a good life expectancy so as to reduce the chances of leaving the child without a parent as a minor.
What Are Some Common Types of Adoption Disputes?
Typically, the adoption process goes smoothly and does not involve very many legal issues or disputes. This is partially due to the fact that the adoption process involves a thorough screening and background check process. However, some common legal disputes do arise throughout the adoption process.
Some of the most common examples of such disputes include:
- Disputes over the rights of the child’s biological parents. It is important to note that adoption generally severs all legal rights once the adoption is finalized, although some biological parents wish to maintain contact with the child;
- Reversing an adoption decision, generally due to adoption fraud, the child having unexpected needs that the adoptive parent(s) cannot handle, or health issues on the part of the adoptive parent(s) that render them unable to care for the child;
- The stability of the adopting parent(s) come into question, such as their mental, emotional, or financial stability;
- Issues between the state and the adopting parent(s); or
- Disputes with the adoption agency responsible for handling the adoption process.
As previously mentioned, adoption fraud is a potential dispute that could lead to the adoption being reversed. Adoption fraud typically occurs when the adoption process includes any form of misrepresentation, deceit, or false representation. This can present in many forms and can be committed by any party involved in the adoption process, including:
- The birth parents;
- The adoption agency;
- State social workers;
- Those with previous legal custody; or
- The adoptive parent(s).
Adoption fraud may sometimes be referred to as wrongful adoption, and is a serious violation that can have equally serious effects lasting for years, or even decades. Laws governing adoption hold all contributing people or parties liable for adoption fraud.
Such disputes often require the intervention of a social worker, or other state agents. Should a dispute arise, a legal hearing may be necessary in order to resolve the dispute and clarify any issues at hand.
What Else Could Complicate an Adoption?
Adoptions can involve unique situations that could complicate the adoption process; and, adoption does not always involve a child. Adult adoption may be required in cases involving an adult who is no longer capable of caring for themselves. These types of adoptions can involve their own issues, especially if the adult needing to be adopted is physically or mentally disabled. The adopting party may be required to provide proof that they are capable of providing the proper type of care for the adoptee, in addition to meeting all of the typical eligibility and capability requirements.
Most state laws are unclear regarding whether a same sex couple may adopt a child. Those few states that do ban adoption by same sex couples often face lawsuits challenging the bans as unconstitutional. Most laws banning adoption by same sex couples have been overturned. In the state of Utah, unmarried but cohabiting couples are prohibited from adopting a child together. However, Utah does permit single individuals to adopt. This ban has been challenged before, and will likely continue to be challenged until it is overturned.
Do I Need an Attorney for an Adoption Dispute?
Although most adoptions proceed without the need of an attorney, some processes can become complex, especially when disputes arise. If you need or would like assistance with the adoption process, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable adoption attorney. An experienced adoption attorney can provide you with legal advice specific to your state’s laws, and represent you as needed should any disputes arise.