In short, yes. Adoptions can be reversed, as adoptions do not always work out. However, adoption is not legally intended to be reversible. As such, reversing an adoption is a complicated and nuanced process. Some examples of when adoption reversal generally occurs include but are not limited to:

  • Fraud, or wrongful adoption;
  • The child has unexpected needs that the adoptive parents are not able to address; and/or
  • The adoptive parents develop health issues or disabilities that make it impossible to raise a child.

The adoption reversal process differs according to who wishes to have the adoption reversed, and when the reversal takes place. Generally, an adoption reversal takes place once the adoption has been finalized. Typically, the reversal process is initiated by either set of parents, adoptive or biological, petitioning the court to reverse the adoption.

It is imperative to note that the reversal must absolutely be in the child’s best interests if anything is to proceed. Laws regarding adoption reversal are quite strict. If the reversal is granted, the child’s birth certificate will revert to its original form, and it will be as if the adoption never occurred.

Can You Disrupt an Adoption?

Consent to an adoption is essential and must be clear in order for an adoption to be final. Disrupting an adoption would mean revoking consent, which would then render the adoption invalid. As previously mentioned, there are a few circumstances in which consent to the adoption may be revoked once the adoption has been finalized. This could include duress or fraud, but most commonly involves a timeframe of refusal.

Birth parents are allowed a limited window in which they may change their minds before their consent is considered permanent and therefore irreversible. Each state has its own time frame, ranging from 72 hours after birth (Nevada) to 25 years of age (Virginia). That time frame is also influenced by how the adoption was processed. Some states revoke consent if the court determines that the child’s best interests are not served by the adoption. All states revoke consent in cases involving fraud, duress, or misrepresentation. Further, some states only allow disruption based on those circumstances.

Another common reason to contest or disrupt an adoption occurs when one biological parent was not privy to the adoption process or was unaware of the birth of the child. For example, a child’s biological father may not be aware that a child was born, or the child’s biological father is disputed. In such cases, should the biological father not agree with the adoption, the biological father will typically initiate a paternity action and contest the adoption. The process of contesting an adoption can take anywhere from a few months to multiple years in more contested cases.

Who Can Reverse an Adoption? (Can a Biological Parent Regain Custody After Adoption?)

Birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child are all able to file a petition to reverse an adoption. If the birth parents wish to restore their parental rights, they may file a petition. However, this is generally the most difficult type of adoption reversal, and may actually be impossible in some states. When it is allowed, the birth parents will be required to prove that they have extraordinarily improved their abilities to care for the child.

Additionally, they will need to obtain the consent of the adoptive parents.The most common example of such a scenario would be when a child is adopted by a relative, or the child’s grandparents, because they are concerned for the child’s wellbeing.

Adoptive parents wishing to reverse the adoption must prove that the adoption is not working out to the point that it would be in the child’s best interest to reverse the adoption. An example of this would be if the relationship between the parents and the child is so poor that neither party benefits from the arrangement in any way. It is unlikely that a court would ever grant a reversal simply because the adoptive parents wish to be relieved from their responsibilities as parents.

An adopted child may wish to reverse an adoption if they are seeking emancipation from their adopted parents, or if they wish to contact their birth parents but the terms of their adoption stipulate that they may not. Most commonly, an adopted child wishes to reverse the adoption due to a failing relationship with their adoptive parents. In some cases, the child has found a suitable replacement for themselves and the adoption process may begin again. This would remove the old adoption of all legal power.

Can You Return an Adopted Child?

As mentioned above, states do not allow adoptive parents to simply return the child to the adoption agency or their birth parents. This is true regardless of where the child was adopted from, whether that be national or international.

Once again, in cases where the adoptive parents are unable to properly care for the child, a court may allow the adoptive parent(s) to terminate their parental rights if there is another prospective adoptive family lined up. Additionally, a court may allow the adoptive parent(s) to modify their original court order granting the adoption to allow for another party to be granted custody of the adoptive child.

What Happens to a Child If Their Adoptive Parents Die?

Once again, once an adoption is final, that child is treated the same as a biological child of the adoptive parents. Similar to normal parents, it is important that adoptive parents make arrangements for their adoptive child to ensure that they are cared for in case they become incapacitated or die. Thus it is important that adoptive parents conduct estate planning, including drafting a will or crafting a guardianship for the child in case they become incapacitated or die.

Additionally, some states do have adoption assistance programs that continue to provide assistance to adoptive children after their adoptive parents become incapacitated or die. Therefore, as an adoptive parent, it is important to include such language in your will.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Want to Reverse an Adoption?

An adoption attorney will be essential for any part of the adoption process. It is imperative to remember that reversing an adoption will likely be impossible simply because the adoptive parents regret their decision to adopt the child. Further, all decisions on reversing an adoption must be made with the child’s best interests being placed above all.

An experienced adoption attorney can help you build a case on this standard, and guide you through the adoption and adoption reversal process. Additionally, an attorney can file any necessary legal paperwork on your behalf, as well as represent you in court as needed.