Adoption Legal Information

Overview

Family lawyers deal with variety of different issues within the law.  Despite dealing with bankruptcy law (see Bankruptcy Lawyers), family lawyers practice the part of the law including adoptions, name changes, marriage, prenuptial agreements, immigration, and green cards.  Because a family lawyer can be involved in so many different areas of the law, it is important to employ a family lawyer who has background experience related to your law issues.

Adoption Options

Agency adoptions:  public agencies place children who are being raised by the state with parents who are looking to adopt a child.  Often children in public or government run agencies are those who have been orphaned, abandoned, or abused.  Private agencies can also place children with parents and usually place children whose parents chose to give them up for adoption.  When adopting through an agency, the paperwork necessary for the court process is taken care of by the agency.  This method of adoption usually does not require a lawyer on the adopting parent’s part.

Independent adoptions:  there is no agency involved with independent adoptions.  This is usually a direct arrangement between the birth parents and the adoptive parents.  Sometimes an intermediary, such as a lawyer, doctor, or clergyperson, is used as a go between for the two parties.  A lawyer should be employed to do the proper paperwork for the court process.  Not all states allow independent adoptions.

Identified adoptions:  when the mother and the adopting parents find each other and ask an agency to do the rest.  This option is available when independent adoptions are illegal (as in some states).

International adoptions:  take place when a child who is a citizen of another country is adopted by parents in the United States.  The requirements for adoption must be met in the child’s native country, the United States, and the parent’s state of residence.  An immigrant visa will need to be obtained before the child is brought to the United States.  Once the child arrives, they will be granted United States citizenship.  These adoptions can take place directly or through a specialized agency.

Stepparent adoptions:  this is less complicated than other adoptions.  The process is very easy if the birth parents do not object.  If they do object, more paperwork is necessary and a lawyer is probably needed.

Domestic partner adoptions:  the process is easy when the state that the parents live in allows a domestic partnership.  The only requirement is that the couple must be registered as domestic partners.

Relative adoptions:  these are used when parents cannot take care of their children.  This process is much easier than non-relative adoptions.

"I want to adopt a child, what is the process involved?"

All adoptions must be approved through the court system.  The court process of adoption has 4 major steps:

  1. File an adoption petition (request for adoption approval from the court)
  2. Notice:  before the adoption hearing, everyone who is required to consent to the adoption is notified.  These people may include the birth parents, legal representatives, and adoption agency.
  3. Adoption Petition:  information is outlined and finalized.  This includes all information about the adoptive parents, the child, and all relevant information about the adoption.
  4. Adoption Hearing and Order:  the court will hold an adoption hearing to decide where or not to grant the adoption.  If the judge agrees that an adoption is in the child’s best interest than they will issue an approval and the adoption is finalized.

"If I decide to adopt, will my life be investigated?"

If you decide to adopt a child, a social worker will need to do a “home study” and make a recommendation to the court as to whether or not you are fit to raise a child in your home.  The social workers recommendation is used by the judge to make a final decision about whether or not to approve your adoption.  Areas of concern for the court are: financial stability, lifestyle, other children, career obligations, physical and mental health, and criminality.  If the social worker rejects the adoption of the child, the adoptive couple has the right to contest the decision in the court system.

During a “home study” the social worker will also prepare you for the adoption of a new child.  In addition to making a recommendation to the court, the social worker is there to educate the adoptive parents about what it will be like to bring a new child into their home.


"Do I need to hire a lawyer to help with the adoption process?"

If you are not going to adopt a child through an established agency, either public or private, then you need to hire a lawyer to help with the process.  Even if you use an agency to adopt a child you may want to hire a lawyer to draft the adoption petition and to represent you at the adoption hearing.  If you think you need a lawyer to help you with an adoption you should choose one who has experience dealing specifically with adoption cases.

Consent of birth parents:  unless parental rights have been taken away, birth parents must approve of the adoption process.  Time is usually give (sometimes up to 3 months) after parents make the decision to allow an adoption, in case they change their mind.  Some courts require the birth parents to go through counseling when they decide to put their child up for adoption.

 

Payment

Depending on the type of service your family/adoption lawyer provides, they may charge a flat fee or they may charge an hourly fee.  If you are only using a lawyer to help with paperwork then they probably will charge a flat fee.  If you want your lawyer to represent you throughout the adoption and during the hearing then they will probably charge an hourly fee.

It is important when you first speak with a family/adoption lawyer to find out how much they charge and by what method they calculate their fee.  Find out if the lawyer requires an initial retainer.  This is money paid to your lawyer up front in case you can’t pay the hourly fee later on.  If they do require a retainer, how much is it?  Keep in mind that complex adoption matters will cost more money than simple ones.  You should always inform your lawyer you want to keep your costs to a reasonable minimum and you would like them to help you do so.