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Maybe you are unable to have a child yourself, think there are already so many lovely children in the world who need good homes, or perhaps you want to become your stepchild's legal parent. Whatever your reason for wanting to become a legal parent to a child who is not biologically yours, adoption law will tell you how to do so. 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 you decide which type of adoption works best for you.
The Adoption Process
While state laws vary, every person who wants to adopt a child must go through a legal adoption process. You, the parents-to-be, start the process by submitting to a thorough investigation by licensed social workers or juvenile court officers. During the investigation, 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, and 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. After the investigation is completed, the worker will then summarize the 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.
Open and Semi-Open Adoptions
The vast majority of adoptions in the United States involve some level of communication or exchange of information between birth parents and biological parents. Many adoptions are now either open or semi-open. In open adoptions, 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.
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. 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.
Private adoptions, also called "independent adoptions," also are common. In a private adoption, the birth parents and 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 in legally.
Adoptions can also 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 adoptions may range into thousands of dollars and typically require the counsel of an adoption law attorney.
In roughly one in 10 adoptions, the birth parents or adoptive parents still choose a closed adoption, despite the modern trend towards some form of open adoption. In a closed adoption, information about the biological parent is kept sealed. 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.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state may deviate significantly from those described here.
Looking to Make It Official? Get a Free Legal Review
The adoption process can be much like natural child birth: long, difficult to navigate, but with a wonderful end result. If you are looking to become the legal parent to a bouncing bundle of joy, a tenderhearted tot, a kind kid, a thoughtful teen, or even an awesome adult, get a free review of your legal situation from an attorney skilled at navigating the adoption laws where you live.