When couples decide to tie the knot, it isn’t uncommon for the idea of children to follow. Sometimes the plan is for one child, other times large families. Once the decision is made to have children, there are times when couples experience events or issues that may result in the need to adopt a child, rather than conceiving the child themselves. This may be due to infertility of one of the spouses, same sex marriages, or even simply making a choice to adopt. Regardless of the reason, they tend to share a common bond, to build or expand their family.
If adoption is a path that you are considering, there are two basic types of adoptions (although not all jurisdictions permit both). They include open and closed adoptions. When the adoption process allows the birth mother to choose the parents that will adopt her child, this is known as an “open adoption”. On the other hand, a “closed adoption” is when the birth mother gives up her rights, thus having a state administrative agency handle the adoption process. It is important to look into your state’s laws and regulations related to the types of adoption that are permitted. Ultimately, adoptions result in the birth parents giving up their parental rights, which under most circumstances, can’t be reversed.
General methods in the U.S. for adopting a child(children)
1. Adopting children who are currently living in foster care.
2. Fostering a child with the expectation that you will be able to adopt them with legally free and available.
3. Adopting an infant (generally though an attorney, physician or other facilitator other than a licensed adoption agency).
4. Independently adopting an infant (generally this results in forfeiting financial assistance for special needs not noticed at birth).
When you make the decision to adopt, it is important to remember that adoption laws are generally a matter of state laws (although most US states have modeled their adoption laws based upon the Uniform Adoption Act).This is important as states vary when it comes to their requirements for who can legally adopt a child. For instance, some states don’t allow single (non-married) individuals and same-sex couples (even when married) to adopt. In some states, factors such as financial status, criminal history, and mental status are considered. Due to this, you may decide to pursue adoption through a private or public adoption agency.
Some couples may also seek to adoption from a foster care agency. Those choosing to adopt from U.S. foster care may have more flexible options. For instance, in most cases those who are single, married (including same-sex), or even in committed relationships may be able to adopt. What’s important is that they are stable, mature, dependable, flexible and able to advocate for the children while working closely with the child welfare worker.
Ultimately, if you are considering adoption, it is important to become familiar with your state’s laws. Thus, it is recommended that you seek out the guidance of a qualified attorney who specializes in adoption or local and states adoption agencies.
The adoption process (Other than a spouse’s child)
Making the decision to adopt a child is an exciting decision. It can make an amazing difference in a child and family’s lives. Once you have reviewed your state’s laws and procedures, if you appear to meet the requirements and are ready to get the process started, there are some common steps that you should expect. Although they may vary by state, you should expect to:
- Enroll with adoption agency
Adopting parents begin the process by enrolling with an adoption agency licensed in the state where they reside. The adoption agency acts on behalf of the adopting parents and also serves to ensure that the prospective parents are prepared to parents an adopted child and can offer a suitable home environment.
- Investigation by adoption agency
Once an adopting family retains an adoption agency, the agency will assign a social worker to conduct a home study and collect the necessary documents needed to process the adoption such as birth certificates, marriage license, child abuse clearances and personal references. With the home study and required documents, the social worker will complete his or her report which usually is finalized with a meeting involving all parties involved in the adoption. Once the adoption agency is satisfied that the parent’s and the home environment is satisfactory, the child will be placed in the home. After placement, a social worker will complete post-placement visits to ensure the child and the adopting family are adjusting well to one another.
- Filing a Petition for Adoption
Once the child placed the legal adoption process is started by filing a Petition for Adoption with your local court. A Petition for Adoption cannot be filed until a child is available for adoption. This occurs when either the child’s biological parents have surrendered the child for adoption, or the court has entered an Order terminating their parental rights.
- Review of all required documentation
A judge will review the adoption and ensure post-placement visits were completed, documentation for interstate adoptions (if required) was completed and both birth parents’ parental rights were legally terminated.
- Granting legal custody
Once the court reviews all documentations and requirement for adoption it issues an order granting the adoption, after that the adoptive family is granted legal custody of the child and awarded the adoption decree, and the domestic adoption process is complete.
If you chose to adopt from a U.S. foster agency, it is similar to the process of becoming a foster parent (some states requiring that families be approved for foster care and adoption). Typically, the process will start with pre-service training and the completion of an application. Similar to court processes, you should expect to provide evidence to support that you meet the requirements to adopt. This may include letters of reference, criminal background information, age requirements, and financial situation. Once the training and application process is complete, you should expect to be required to complete a home study with your assigned caseworker. This is also known as a mutual assessment.
The home study generally examines information related to the family’s background, employment and educational history, relationships, daily routines, experience with parenting, social lives, and information about your home and local area. This will also be a continued review of why you are wanting to adopt and whether you are ready to take the step. If you get to this point, you should expect it to take up to three to six months. Be patient! This is a process intended to be in your favor. Remember, they are responsible for a child’s life and best interest…and that can’t be determined in a couple weeks.
In the end, regardless of the path you choose for adoption, although it may seem daunting and slow, adoption can be one of the most life changing, positive and rewarding experiences for a child, a couple, and a family.
Adopting your spouse’s child
When couples get married in the U.S. today, it is not uncommon to experience blended families (bringing minor stepchildren from previous relationships into the marriage). In some situations, the non-birth spouse wants to adopt their spouse’s child, thus legally changing their relationship to being responsible for them.
Making the decision to adopt your spouse’s child is a big step, but one that can be rewarding for all. Although the process isn’t quite as difficult as many of the other types of adoption, it is important to understand that there are still legal steps that have to be taken (which vary by state).
In general, the common requirement for adopting a stepchild is receiving consent from both birth parents. This means that one of the parents (the birth parent you aren’t married to), will be relinquishing their rights. In some situations, parental rights can be terminated without consent. This may include abandonment, not being fit as a parent, neglect or failing to pay child support.
If consent is required, you should expect that your request may be met with resistance from the other parent…especially when a child has a relationship with that parent. That said, that doesn’t mean that it will be impossible. Again, some states will allow the termination of a parent’s rights if it can be proven that the parent abandoned or neglected the child, they are an unfit parent, or they aren’t the biological father.
If you are seeking to pursue the adoption of your spouse’s child, it is recommended that you review the adoption laws in your state and contact a lawyer who specializes in adoption.