Deciding to grow your family is an exciting prospect and takes many different forms, one of them being through the adoption of a child. Whether you or your partner have fertility issues, you wish to become a parent on your own, or you wish to become the legal parent of your stepchild, adoption law helps unite parents and children needing a home.
Each state has its own adoption laws that determine the process. In addition, there are several different types of adoptions that involve various agencies. An adoption lawyer makes sure that the process follows these legal requirements and also can help prospective adoptive parents like you decide which type of adoption works best for you whether through a state adoption or an intercountry adoption or some other option. Whatever your reason may be for wanting to become a parent to a child that may not be yours biologically, adoption law tells you how to make it happen.
Eligibility for Adoption
Can I Adopt a Child?
State laws allow most adults eligible to be adoptive parents regardless of their marital status, age, income, or sexual orientation. Adults with disabilities are also not automatically disqualified from becoming an adoptive parent.
However, it is important to note some faith-based adoption agencies may have different policies. Also, having a criminal history may cause issues for you when seeking to adopt a child, but most states allow an adoption to proceed as long as your convictions are not seriously violent, do not involve children, and are not sexual in nature.
How Children Are Eligible for Adoption
In the United States, children younger than 18 years old may be eligible for adoption. Each state dictates other factors for eligibility, such as whether the child’s parents or guardians have terminated their rights or other residency requirements.
For international adoption, there are a number of other requirements for adopting a child controlled by federal laws. This process can look very different, be more costly, and involve applying for visas, which is why it is important to work with an attorney experienced in these types of adoptions.
Some states allow for the adoption of adults in situations where a child recently turned 18 but has a sibling under 16 or when an adult lacks mental capacity.
The Adoption Process
While state laws vary, every person who wants to adopt a child must go through a legal adoption process. The parents-to-be, you individually or with your partner, initiate the process by submitting to a thorough investigation by licensed social workers or juvenile court officers. During the investigation, both you and the child to be adopted will be thoroughly assessed to make certain both parties are appropriate for adoption and to ensure a good match.
The investigation and assessment includes a home study, which includes training and home visits. The entire investigative process should be expected to last at least six to eight weeks. The investigation will include interviews with every member of the family, full criminal background and medical checks, and much more.
When the investigation is complete, the worker will then summarize their findings and recommendations in a written report and file it with the court. If you are trying to adopt an adult, the process may be different.
Types of Adoptions
The law allows for a number of ways to become an adoptive parent. Your adoption attorney can help you determine which type of adoption is right for you as well as the child.
Adoptions can proceed through public or private agencies. Public agency adoptions are normally for children who have special needs or who have come out of the foster care system. Private agency adoptions can be either international or domestic. The fees charged for private agency adoptions may range into thousands of dollars. These also typically require the counsel of an adoption law attorney.
Private adoptions, also called “independent adoptions,” also are common. In a private adoption, the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents handle the matter without the help of an agency. An adoption attorney may help to facilitate the process in order to protect clients and to make certain everything is done legally.
Many families are blended today, so it is very common for a stepparent to want to adopt the children of their spouse through a stepparent adoption. In order to do so, a stepparent may first be required to get the consent of the child’s noncustodial parent. While some states allow written consent, others require that the noncustodial parent appears in court and either assert or forfeit their parental rights. A noncustodial parent may have the ability to object to the adoption and challenge it as well. A stepparent who wants to adopt a stepchild normally will not have to submit to a home study, but still may be required to undergo a criminal background check.
Adoption and Biological Parents
Depending on your adoptive child’s circumstances, your adoption may need to address the issue of any future communication with the child’s biological parents.
Open and Semi-Open Adoptions
Many adoptions in the United States involve some level of communication or exchange of information between birth parents and biological parents. Many intercountry adoptions are also now either open or semi-open.
In an open adoption, the birth parents and adoptive parents exchange information. Biological parents may have visits with their child and receive updates as the child grows.
In semi-open adoptions, information exchanged is limited to first names and states of residence. They may also agree to exchange letters or pictures that are handled through a third party.
In roughly one in 10 adoptions, the birth parents or adoptive parents still choose a closed adoption. In a closed adoption, information about the biological parent is kept sealed from the adopted child. The identity of the adoptive family is also kept protected from the biological parents.
The idea behind a closed adoption is that it offers more protection against biological parents coming back later and seeking to overturn adoptions. Some adopted children have later sought to try to find information about their biological parents and have had difficulty since the records are often not given to them either.
How Can an Adoption Attorney Help?
An experienced adoption attorney can help couples navigate the adoption process. Adoption lawyers can also help couples through international adoptions that may be more challenging. Having an advocate to guide you through the process can remove some of the barriers to adoption and avoid any unnecessary surprises.
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