While adoption is a happy process for most people, it involves many legal rules and considerations. Before you meet with an adoption lawyer, you should prepare for your appointment. In order to understand your claim, the lawyer will need accurate and detailed information. While every lawyer has his or her own interview process, this is a list of common questions.
Where Do You and the Child Live?
Different laws and procedures will apply, depending on where you and the child live. Adoption is a statutory process and state, federal, and other laws may apply in your case. If you do not comply with the correct laws, your adoption may not be approved.
International or foreign adoptions require compliance with state, federal, and foreign laws (as well as immigration laws). The United States and roughly 90 other countries are part of the Hague Convention on the Protection and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. If you are adopting from another Hague Convention country, you must follow specific adoption processes. Non-Hague convention adoptions do not involve the same requirements, but may have their own concerns and complications. An experienced adoption attorney may be able to help you select the right country or agency and help streamline the foreign adoption process.
If you are participating in an interstate adoption (where you and the child live in different states), you must follow the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Under the ICPC, you must file paperwork in both states. This process typically involves lawyers in both your state and the child’s home state. Importantly, you cannot take your adopted child out of his or her home state without that state’s approval. In order to streamline this process, your lawyer will need to file the correct paperwork with the right agencies.
Have You Completed a Home Study?
Adopting parents frequently must complete a home study before an adoption can occur. An adoption home study is an extended investigation of your home life and ability to parent. Performed by an agency or social worker, it involves:
- Training for the adopting parents,
- Multiple interviews with the adopting parent(s),
- A visit to your home to evaluate its safety and suitability,
- A review of your financial stability and career obligations,
- Discussion of your lifestyle (including the stability of your relationships, hobbies, daily routines, religion, and other factors), and
- A criminal background check.
Once the home study is completed, the agency will issue a report either supporting or opposing your request to adopt. (You may be able to contest or appeal an unfavorable home study report.) Typically, the entire home study process takes between three and six months to complete.
If a home study has not been completed, the adoption lawyer may be able to guide you through the process. If you already have a home study report, the lawyer will need to review it.
Is an Adopting Parent a Stepparent or Relative?
Different rules apply when a stepparent or relative is adopting a child. For example, the ICPC may not apply in a family adoption. Similarly, a home study may not be necessary. Your adoption lawyer will want to understand the circumstances and familial connections between you and the child before creating a legal strategy for your case.
Has Paternity Been Established?
If the child’s biological father has acknowledged paternity, he may have to give up his parental rights before you adopt the child. If the biological parents were unmarried, your lawyer may need to (at a minimum) notify the father of the adoption proceedings through a state-based Fathers’ Adoption Registry.
Is the Child Native American?
If your adoptive child is Native American, the Indian Welfare Act may apply in your case. Under the Indian Welfare Act, adoption preference must be given to either family member, a member of the child’s tribe, or another Native American. However, non-Native American parents may adopt—but it may take additional steps and tribe approval. If you are adopting a Native American child, you should make sure your adoption lawyer has experience with the process.
Do You Want an Open or Closed Adoption?
Typically, parents arrange for either an open or closed adoption. In an open adoption, the biological parent (or parents) receive updates and may maintain some contact with their child after he or she is adopted. In a closed adoption, biological parents do not interact with their child post-adoption.
While open adoption is increasingly popular, it can add complicate the biological and adoptive parent relationships. For example, some parents struggle to balance parenting roles. In other cases, one set of parents may retreat or disappear, creating emotional distress for the other parents and child. Your lawyer may want to discuss these issues with you in detail.
Is This a Private or Agency Adoption?
An adoption lawyer will need to know if you are working with an adoption agency. Similarly, if you are pursuing a private adoption, your lawyer should know if you have agreed to any terms with the biological parent(s), including the payment of pregnancy-related or living expenses.
Where Do I Find the Right Lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer is an important decision. For many parents, adoptions are too complicated to handle without a adoption lawyer. An experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights, comply with the state and federal laws, and structure the adoption to serve both you and the birth parents’ needs.