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Ultimate Guide to Adoptions

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What Is Adoption?

Adoption is a court procedure where an adult becomes legally recognized as the parent of a child who is not their biological child. Adoption legally establishes a parent-child relationship for all purposes, including for child support obligations, inheritance rights, and custody. Legal rules regarding adoption vary from state to state and country to country.

Who Can Adopt?

Generally, any adult who is deemed “fit” to be a parent may adopt. However, as stated above, laws governing adoption vary from state to state. Some individuals may face more obstacles when attempting to adopt, depending on the state in which they live. For example, a single man or a gay/lesbian couple may have a harder time adopting a child than a heterosexual married couple. This may occur based on the laws of each individual state where the adoption proceedings are continuing.

What Is a Typical Adoption Process?

The typical adoption process is handled in mostly the same manner in all states. Regardless of whether the adoption is handled by an agency or privately through independent parties, a court must be involved in the adoption process. The following should be reviewed carefully:

  • Understanding State Laws and Different Types of Adoption: Before you begin the process of adoption, you should learn about the different types of adoption that are available to you and the laws that govern your chosen type of adoption in the state where you live. Laws vary from state to state, so understanding the applicable laws is paramount to ensuring that you take the necessary steps to carry through the adoption process without running into any problems.
  • Financial Issues: It is important to understand the financial requirements for the type of adoption you undertake. These include the fees for the adoption agency filing fee and attorney fees if you have an attorney represent you through the process.
  • Petition Filing: Once you have decided on the type of adoption you would like and have found the perfect child to adopt, you will need to file a petition with the court for approval of the adoption of the adoptive child. After a petition is filed, the court will schedule an opportunity for a hearing to determine whether or not it will approve of your adoption.
  • Notice Requirement: All the parties who have an interest in the adoption, including the birth parents, must receive notice of the hearing prior to the hearing occurs.
  • Adoption Hearing: The adoption hearing allows for the court to determine whether the adoption is in the best interest of the child. It is up to the prospective parents to prove to the judge that the child will be in a better place if the adoption goes through. If they are satisfied by the facts presented, the judge will issue an order, called a final decree of adoption, that approves and finalizes the adoption.

What Is an Agency Adoption?

An agency adoption occurs when a child is left with an agency that provides help in finding the child a home. The majority of adoption cases are processed through an adoption agency. These agencies can either be run privately or publicly as a government entity located in the state in which the child resides. There are major differences between a private and public adoption. However, the one aspect that both share is that an agency adoption process involves a great deal of time, resources, and patience on the part of the parties involved.

The following outline the major differences between a public and private agency adoption:

  • Private Agency:
    • Run by charity organizations or privately-funded social service organizations that place children specifically brought to them by parents who want to give their children up for adoption
    • More counseling services for parents and child
    • Newborns and infants are permitted to be adopted
    • More expensive than public, state-run, agencies
    • Substantially long waiting lists
    • High selectivity when reviewing prospective parents
  • Public Agency:
    • Lower costs than private adoption agencies
    • The children have already become wards of the state or have been placed in orphanages due to abuse or abandonment in their home, and many of them are older and/or special-needs
    • Adoptive parents may be granted a small stipend through the state for participating in the public adoption process
    • The process for approving parents is not as selective as compared to private agencies

Agency adoptions require a waiting period wherein, prior to granting the adoption, there is a period of time where agency personnel will evaluate the prospective parents.  This involves a “home study” of the prospective parents, where the home and living arrangements for the child are investigated. The purpose of this evaluation is to ensure that the prospective parents will provide a stable and health environment for the child. Additionally, the waiting period is provided in those states where the birth parents of the adoptive child are granted a grace period. This period of time permits the birth parents to reflect on their choice of putting their child up for adoption and decide whether they want to continue with the adoption process, or revoke their agreement and take their child back from the agency. The waiting period could also simply be due to the fact that there is a long waiting list of people who want to adopt a child.

What Is an International Adoption?

An intentional adoption occurs when people adopt a child who is a citizen of another country. The adoptive parents in this circumstance must satisfy the adoption requirements for the United States and the country where the child was born. Thus, international adoptions are far from automatic because adoptive parents must deal with the adoption laws of the country where the child was born, which vary from country to country. Many countries, such as China and South Korea, have well-established adoption procedures for international adoptions. Other countries, however, expressly forbid international adoptions.

Parents in the U.S. are typically recommended to find a licensed adoption agency or attorney to work with in locating a child. Each agency or attorney will work with a different set of countries. Adoptions must occur pursuant to the Hague Adoption Convention, an international treaty related to adoption issues, and the adoption agency or attorney must be accredited by the U.S. government if the child’s country is also a participant in the Hague Convention.

As part of the international adoption process, a dossier is prepared, which contains information about the prospective parents as required by the child’s native country. This information usually includes a background check, fingerprints, home evaluation by a social worker, reports from the adoptive parents’ doctor regarding health concerns, and other information helpful for review in the process.

What Is an Identified Adoption?

An identified adoption is one in which the birth mother has selected the family that she wishes to have adopt her child. This may be accomplished by the birth mother reviewing information about multiple couples before selecting one. The birth mother may or may not meet the adoptive parents that she has chosen. In identified adoptions, the adopting parents and the birth mother typically select one another, and then have an adoption agency take over the rest of the adoption process.

What Is a Relative Adoption?

A relative adoption is a type of adoption where a relative adopts the child. Grandparents and new spouses are the most likely people to seek this type of adoption. These adoptions are usually the easiest to process because the state rarely wants to interfere with a familial relationship that probably already exists.

Each state defines the term “relative” differently, and may include relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption ranging from the first to fifth degree. Preference is usually given to the child’s grandparents, followed by aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and cousins. To date, approximately 10 states give priority to relative placements in their adoption statutes. Despite priority being given to relatives, before a child can be placed in the home of a relative, the child-placing agency must do an assessment to determine that the relative will provide a suitable home for the child, keep the child safe, and meet the child’s needs.

What Are Some Common Adoption Disputes?

Many adoptions take place without any issues or disputes. However, as with any situation in which a person’s rights and responsibilities are dramatically affected due to court action, disputes may arise during the adoption process. Common types of adoption disputes include the following:

  • Disputes over the rights of the biological parents
  • Reversing an adoptive decision
  • Questions regarding the mental/emotional stability or financial capability of the adoptive parents
  • Issues arising between the state and the adopting party
  • Disputes arising with the adoption agencies handling the adoption

What Is a Wrongful Adoption?

A wrongful adoption occurs where an adoption is attained through misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, or any illegal act with intent to obtain financial or personal gain. The parties involved with wrongful adoption include the birth parents, previous parents, adoption agencies, social workers, and other people.

Examples of wrongful adoption include the following:

  • Misrepresentation regarding the identify of the child or any parent involved
  • Negligent misrepresentation regarding medical history or family history
  • Promising adoptive parents custody of the child with no intention to complete the adoption process and give up their parental rights
  • Selling a baby like a market commodity, which is a serious problem where surrogacy and donated eggs are involved because both situations often involve financial compensation
  • Failing to obtain consent of the adoptee when it is required

Is It Possible to Have an Adoption Reversed?

An adoption can be reversed at request of the birth parents or the adoptive parents.  Since the adoption has already been finalized, the court must grant the reversal. The circumstances in which a reversal may be granted are very limited. If the adoption reversal is granted, the adoptee’s birth certificate will be changed back to the way it originally read prior to the adoption taking place.

  • Birth Parents Reversing Adoption: If birth parents reverse the adoption, the adoptive parents must give their consent to the reversal. In some states, however, simply obtaining the consent of the adoptive parents is not enough to grant a reversal of the adoption.
  • Adoptive Parents Reversing Adoption: Adoptive parents wishing to reverse their adoption must show the court that it is in the child’s best interest to dissolve the adoption. This may be granted in situations where the relationship between the adoptive parents and the child is so strained that neither party benefits from the relationship. A reversal may also be granted in situations where the adoptive parents are no longer able to financially support the child.
  • Child Reversing Adoption: The adopted child may wish to be emancipated from their adoptive parents. However, it is more common for the adopted child to seek to reverse their adoption as an adult due to a failing personal relationship with their adoptive parents or because they may wish to inherit from their birth parents.

Do I Need an Attorney for My Adoption?

Adoption proceedings are a complicated area of family law, and understanding the laws governing adoptions is very difficult. A family law lawyer is able to protect the rights of the parents and child and help the adoption process go smoothly. 

Photo of page author Kirin McKenna

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 12-09-2015 03:06 PM PST

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