International adoption is when parents living in the United States want to adopt a foreign national child. International adoption is also known as foreign adoption, or intercountry adoption, and it generally deals with three different bodies of law. Prospective adoptive parents will need to navigate through several federal adoption laws, state adoption laws, as well as some immigration laws, in order to legally get their adopted child into the United States.
What is the Process of International Adoptions?
The Department of State and the U.S collaborates with other adoptive authorities around the world. Adoptive parents will most likely work with an adoption agency to obtain a list of accredited agencies. It cannot be stressed enough to complete your own research with the adoption process, to avoid any potential frauds. It is important to keep in mind that neither the Department of State nor an adoption agency can guarantee any child is eligible to enter the U.S.
The immigration aspect of foreign adoption is governed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When selecting your adoption agency, choosing a Department of State accredited agency provides some additional benefits for the adoptive parents, as well as the security in knowing they are approved by the agency that governs the process.
What are the Applicable Laws and Regulations for International Adoptions?
There are some basic requirements for adopting a foreign child into the U.S. The determination of eligibility is enforced by the USCIS, the same federal body that oversees the immigration law processes. Unless the USCIS approves and decides on whether a parent is eligible for international adoption, the child will not be allowed to enter the US. The basic requirements for adopting a foreign child are as follows:
- The adoptive parent must be a U.S. citizen;
- An unmarried person wishing to adopt a foreign child must be at least 25 years of age;
- Married couples must jointly adopt the child;
- The applicant must pass criminal and other background checks and;
- The prospective adoptive parents will also need to meet legal requirements established by the state in which they reside, and any requirements of which the child is to be adopted.
Furthermore, an adopted child for U.S. immigration purposes is one who satisfies all of the following qualifications:
- The child was legally adopted under the age of 16 years;
- The child has been in the legal custody of the adoptive parents for at least two years and;
- The child has lived in the physical custody of the adoptive parents for at least two years;
It is crucial to understand that you do not have legal custody of your child until you begin responsibility under the laws of the state and under the approval of a court of law or other appropriate government entity. This is true, even if the child was living with you before legal custody was granted.
What Paperwork is Needed to Begin the Process of Adopting a Foreign Child?
In almost all circumstances, it is beneficial to go through the adoption process with the assistance of an experienced international adoption attorney. Growing or creating a family is one of the most significant events in the lives of most people that are seeking to adopt. You will want to be prepared and ensure that the adoption you pursue adheres to the state and federal laws.
Additionally, if you are a biological parent, and you are wanting to place your child for adoption, you will most likely need the assistance of counsel to help you understand your rights. Generally, the adoptive parents will pay for the costs of the birth parents’ attorney in order to protect the birth parents’ rights and wishes.
However, there is an assumption that the adoption process has received the consent of all parties involved. But this may not be the case. In some cases, a court will terminate the parental rights of birth parents without their consent. In these situations, an attorney is important. Some states may provide an attorney free of charge to birth parents who are involved in parental right termination hearings. However in other states, parents who are at risk of losing their parental rights need to pay for their own counsel.
The involuntary termination of parental rights can only occur in certain circumstances. For instance, parental rights can be terminated if the parents have been abusive or neglected the children. They can also be terminated if they are unable or unwilling to provide a safe home for the children.
Furthermore, parental rights can be terminated if a parent has abandoned the child or if they will be imprisoned for a long period of time. An experienced attorney can help you defend your parental rights if you are at risk of an involuntary termination.
What is The Role of a Lawyer in an Adoption?
While prospective adoptive parents may see an adoption as a primarily emotional process that formalizes a parental bond, it is also a legal process. The parent/child relationship is one of the most important bonds, therefore the courts want to be certain that the legal procedures are followed accurately. The main reason to have attorneys involved in the adoption process is to prevent any fraud or discrepancies. Keep in mind though that the specific involvement of the adoption lawyer will depend on the type of adoption and other factors as well.
If you are working with an adoption agency, they will coordinate the attorney services for you. However, if you are doing an independent adoption, you will need to be proactive and diligent in doing the hiring of your own international adoption attorney. In an independent adoption, the adoption lawyer will play a greater role. In an independent adoption, the attorney will be responsible for making sure that all of the legal requirements of your state are being complied with. This can include making the necessary home studies, background checks, and other screening procedures. Additionally, it can also include assisting and guiding potential adoptive parents to gather the documents that they need.
If you are in a state that allows facilitated adoptions, often the facilitator will be an attorney. Some adoption attorneys will keep a record of files of potential adoptive parents. When the biological parents reach out to them, they will help them find an adoptive home for the child. As with independent adoptions, the adoption lawyer will most likely be the lead and be the main professional working with you.
For birth parents who are voluntarily terminating their parental rights, the role of the lawyer is to protect the rights of the birth parents. The adoption attorney can guide them in explaining certain decisions that need to be made and act as an advocate to ensure that your wishes are executed. They can also assist you if for some reason or no reason change your mind and decide to parent the child yourself. It is important to note that in involuntary terminations, the birth parents’ lawyer has one of the most crucial roles in the process. They are responsible for defending the rights of the biological parents and fighting the termination if that is what the birth parents desire.
When Do I Need to Consult with A Lawyer?
If you are considering international adoption, it is important to seek out an experienced international adoption lawyer earlier in the process to be aware of the legal process. The lawyer can help you navigate through the different stages and bodies of law. They can also represent you during any legal proceedings or hearings you may need to attend.