Adoption Law

Adoption occurs when an adult becomes the legal parent of a child who is not biologically his own. Adoptive parents accept full custody and become responsible for all child support costs and obligations. In addition, the adopted child is, in turn, granted all inheritance rights. When an adoption is finalized, the biological parents terminate their parental rights; however, in some instances birthparents request (and are awarded) legal contracts that guarantee them retention of some of those rights. In cases of stepparent adoption, only the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have custody) forfeits his parental rights.

When couples decide they want to adopt, they must decide which type of adoption is best for them - the options include agency, relative (including stepparent), international, and independent adoption.

Adoption Requirements

Prospective adoptive parents should be aware every type of adoption has its own requirements - including waiting periods, paperwork, and rules or standards - as well as its own costs. Additionally, most states impose different pre-adoption requirements for most types of adoptions. Couples are encouraged to learn about their chosen type of adoption’s process and their state's adoption laws before choosing to adopt a child.

Home Study Investigation

After deciding on a specific type of adoption, adoptive parents should prepare for a home study investigation, which is conducted by the agency or group handling the adoption. The home study is treated as an investigation of prospective parents’ physical and mental health, marital and financial stability, criminal history, and general lifestyle habits, and it is also regarded as an informational session during which they can learn more about the child they might adopt. The social worker or agency representative then answers any questions raised about the adoption process or the child.

Can I still adopt if my home study returns unfavorable results?

If you receive a negative home study evaluation that labels you unfit to adopt, you may contest it. However, appeal processes vary from state to state, so adoptive parents should research their states’ policies.

What Type of Adoption is Right for You?

There are five main types of adoption: agency adoption, independent adoption, identified adoption, relative adoption, and international adoption.

Agency Adoption

Agency adoption refers to the adoption of a child through a private or public agency. Private agencies that offer adoptions are usually run by charities or social service agencies and generally place children who have been brought to them by the biological parents. Public agencies that offer adoptions are run by the state and generally place children who have become wards of the state.

Independent Adoption

An independent (private) adoption places a child in a family without the help of an agency, whether public or private. In most cases, either an intermediary, such as a clergyman or doctor, is used or a direct arrangement is established between birthparents and adoptive parents. In all cases, hiring a lawyer to handle all legal aspects of adoption-including the explanation of all rights to all parties involved-is an absolute necessity. In some states, independent adoptions are carefully regulated or even prohibited to protect the child, the birthparents, and the adoptive parents.

Both agency and private adoptions offer the option of open adoption, during which birthparents are guaranteed to have some contact with both the child and his adoptive parents. Currently, there are no set standards or regulations for open adoption, so arrangements are made on a case-by-case basis.

Identified Adoption

Identified adoption can occur when the adoptive parent locates the birthmother of the child and then turns the adoption process over to an adoption agency. This allows the adoptive parent to find a mother who wants to give up her child and avoid the waiting lists at an agency.

Relative Adoption

Relative adoption includes any adoption in which a child is related to his adoptive parents by blood or marriage. The most prevalent type of relative adoption is stepparent adoption, in which a parent’s spouse adopts the child and the other birthparent terminates all parental rights. Next most common is grandparent adoption, in which a child’s grandparent or grandparents may adopt him if his parents die while he is still a minor.

International Adoption

International adoption permits prospective adoptive parents to adopt children from foreign countries. Through the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, adoptive parents must secure an immigrant visa for their adopted child and satisfy all of the agency’s requirements. Such requirements include age limitations, a favorable home study evaluation, and the completion of any and all relevant forms or paperwork. Adoptive parents must pay all expenses-including those incurred to fly to pick up and bring back the child. Lastly, because it is not granted automatically, U.S. citizenship must be granted for the adopted child.

If you or someone you love is interested in adopting a child, you may want to contact a family law attorney for more information.

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