According to general adoption laws, the term “adoption” can be defined as a legal process in which a court establishes the rights and obligations between a child and adoptive parent in accordance with state adoption laws. Adoption also creates a parent-child relationship between persons who are not biologically related. There are some exceptions, however, such as if a blood relative like a grandparent decides to legally adopt a child as their own.
In most cases, an adoption occurs because a person or couple may want to have a child, but for whatever reason (e.g., medical condition etc.), they are not able to and thus will decide to adopt a non-biological child instead. Adoptions are extremely beneficial for both the person and persons looking to adopt a child as well as for the child who is adopted. Under the law, the adopted child and parent are legally recognized as family.
What Is the Effect of an Adoption?
As discussed above, an adoption establishes a parent-child relationship between the adopting parent and the child who is adopted. This means it is as if the adoptive parent is the child’s biological parent. Thus, once an adoption is approved, the adopting parent will gain all of the legal and physical parental rights that are granted to biological parents under the law. Conversely, the same will be true, meaning that the child will gain all of the privileges, rights, and legal obligations that a child or heir would have in a biological relationship. For example, the adopted child would obtain inheritance rights under the law.
Additionally, an adoption also means that the biological parents will give up their rights over the child. For instance, a biological parent who gives their child up for adoption will not be allowed to instruct the adopting parent on how to raise their child. The adoption process terminates those rights and transfers them to the adopting persons.
Who Is Allowed to Adopt?
Anyone who meets their state’s minimum adoption requirements will be allowed to adopt a child in that state. For instance, it does not matter if the person is single or married, or already has children or not; it only matters that they can satisfy the legal requirements. Such requirements and laws will vary by state.
Some other basic requirements for adoption include that the person or persons adopting:
• Must be in good physical and mental health;
• Must be of legal age and of sound mind;
• Must be able to provide a stable, clean, and safe home environment for the child;
• Must be financially stable or capable of raising and caring for a child;
• Must have a clear criminal record (or at least no serious criminal offenses); and
• Must be emotionally ready to adopt a child.
What Facts about the Adoptive Parent(s) Are Considered?
An adoptive parent is generally defined as the individual who provides a permanent home for a child who is not biologically related to them (in most cases) and is granted both the legal and physical parental rights over that child. In other words, an adoptive parent essentially has all of the legal obligations and rights that a biological parent would have over a child under the law. This is why it is so important to subject a person to a background check and court evaluation before they can be granted approval to adopt a child.
The facts that a court, agency, and/or other interested parties may review will change in accordance with individual state laws. However, the items that are typically considered before a person can adopt a child include the following:
• Whether the person is financially able to support the child and all of its needs (e.g., funds to provide the child food, shelter, clothes, and other daily necessities);
• Whether the person has enough money to cover the cost of the adoption process;
• Whether the person can provide a safe and clean home environment for the child;
• Whether the person is both physically and mentally capable of taking care of the child (e.g., they have no physical or mental ailments that would endanger the child or prevent them from properly caring for the child);
• Whether the person is mentally competent to make the decision to adopt a child and that they are of the requisite legal age in their state; and
• Whether the person has a clean history, or at the very least, no serious criminal offenses on their personal record.
Basically, the court wants to ensure that the person is a good, law-abiding citizen who is financially, emotionally, and physically equipped to raise and care for a child, as well as to keep them safe and healthy.
What Kinds of Adoptions Are There?
Under the rules on adoption, there are various types of adoptions that a person can petition for, such as:
• Agency adoptions (both public and private);\Foster care adoptions;
• International adoptions;
• Facilitated adoptions;
• Open adoptions;
• Independent adoptions;
• Stepparent adoptions; and/or
• Identified adoptions.
In certain states, there may be overlapping requirements between some of the adoptions mentioned in the above list. In other states, the adoption term or procedure may not even be recognized or allowed by law.
What Are the Steps to Adoption?
As previously mentioned, the laws and requirements for an adoption will typically vary by state. In some instances, they may even vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances surrounding a particular adoption. Thus, the following steps only provide a general overview of what a person’s adoption process might entail, such as:
• A person will need to file a petition for adoption with their local family court.
• The petition, along with any supporting paperwork, must then be served on all interested parties (e.g., biological parents).
• Once all necessary paperwork is received by the family court, the clerk of the court will schedule an adoption hearing.
• The person who filed the petition for adoption will need to appear before a family law judge and convince them why the adoption should be approved.
• The court will then determine whether the petitioner is eligible to adopt a child by considering various factors and weighing them against the child’s best interest standard.
• After evaluating those factors, the judge will issue a decision to either approve or deny the adoption.
• If the court denies the adoption, then the petitioner will need to appeal the court’s decision if they still want to adopt the child. In contrast, if the court grants the adoption, then the adoption process will be considered to be complete.
Again, remember to keep in mind that this process can change from state to state. It may even depend on what type of agency or organization that the person is adopting a child from (e.g., orphanage, private agency, etc.). It should also be noted that if the child is being adopted through an international organization, then the prospective adoptive parent may need to satisfy additional requirements.
Is Court Approval Required for an Adoption?
In general, a person who intends to adopt a child typically must get approval from a court (usually a family law court). This step in the adoption process will require the person to appear in court and to attend a legal proceeding known as an “adoption hearing.” The adoption hearing is where a court will decide whether or not to grant approval for the pending adoption. If approved, this will be the final step in the overall adoption process. Again, while the laws and requirements of the adoption process will often vary by state, there are several overlapping factors that a court may use to make the decision. These include whether the adopting parent will be able to support the child financially. The most important factor that the court uses to make its decision will depend on the child’s best interest standard.
On the other hand, if the court denies the adoption, the adopting parent will have to appeal the decision and prove why they deserve to have the adoption approved. In some cases, an adopting parent may only need to show that the prior circumstances which affected the court’s initial decision are no longer an issue.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with the Adoption Process?
The process to adopt a child can sometimes be long and difficult. This is especially true when there are issues with either the background of the adopting parent, the facts surrounding an adoption, or with the laws of a particular state. All of these problems can make the adoption process that much harder for a person. Therefore, if you plan on adopting a child in the near future, you should speak to a local adoption lawyer for further legal advice. There are many benefits to working with a lawyer for adoption cases. For instance, an experienced adoption lawyer can guide you through the entire adoption process. This includes helping you to fill out the proper forms and determining which type of adoption may be the best fit for you and your family.
Your lawyer can also inform you of your rights and legal obligations as an adoptive parent under the laws governing adoption in your state. In addition, if any issues or disputes should arise during the adoption process, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation on the matter in court.
An adoption lawyer, also known as an adoption law attorney, is licensed court officers and legal counselors who handle adoption law matters. They generally help protect parental rights but could also represent mothers relinquishing theirs. They may also practice family law and trust law in conjunction with their adoption practice. An adoption lawyer must also possess a strong command of federal adoption law and know international adoption laws, family trusts, and privacy laws.
What Does An Adoption Lawyer Do?
An adoption lawyer is someone that will help you through the entire legal process of infant or child adoption. They will help you find the right adoption agency or independent adoptee while protecting your rights through the process.
Here is what an adoption lawyer does:
• Finds an adoption agency or private adoption
• Prepares paperwork on behalf of clients
• Provides ongoing legal counsel and support
• Helps clients meet contractual obligations
• Negotiates terms and conditions of the adoption
• Handles disputes or legal actions if they arise
• Attends all necessary court appearances
• Stays current on local, state, and federal laws
• Communicates with adoption agencies
• Other tasks to lawfully facilitate an adoption
Due to adoption system complexities, parents may feel reassurance when hiring an adoption lawyer. Long waiting periods can make the process feel unfair to expectant parents. Hiring an adoption lawyer ensures that you are taking every proactive step to bring your child home.
An adoption lawyer can help you if you are trying to gain legal guardianship of a child that isn’t biologically yours. A lawyer can help you find an agency to adopt from if you need one, can file any necessary paperwork, and can represent you in court if necessary.
How Much Does an Adoption Lawyer Cost?
Many adoption attorneys have flat fee services for simple issues like document drafting, review, and filing.
For more complex issues like talking to an adoptions agency or going to court, most lawyers charge an hourly rate. Rates will vary depending on the complexity of your issue and where in the country you live, so negotiate a rate up front with your attorney to avoid costly surprises. You should expect to end the process with a child who is a legal member of your family. The entire adoption can take up to 5 years including waiting periods, but it’ll take less time depending on your case. If there are any legal complications or you don’t pass some of the qualifying examinations, the process could take longer. An adoption attorney can guide you through this and potentially expedite the process by knowing who to talk to and what paperwork to file.
Advantages of Adoption Law Firms:
• Provide crucial legal services: The main benefit of adoption law firms is the safe and solid legal work they provide, which makes the adoption more secure. This advantage is seen when adoption attorneys handle the legal side of adoption that they specialize in. In this capacity, an adoption attorney is required in every adoption, regardless of the other professionals (such as adoption agencies) involved.
• Can complete identified adoptions: If a family has already located a potential birth mother to adopt from (such as a pregnant friend or family member), an adoption attorney may be the only professional they need to complete the process, which can be more cost effective than working with an agency.
Disadvantages of Adoption Law Firms:
These disadvantages are not meant to put down adoption attorneys or be overly critical of their work. Rather, it is simply an issue of working with adoption attorneys in the proper context. They play a vital role in the adoption process. Really, it couldn’t happen without adoption lawyers. However, most are not equipped to fulfill obligations of the adoption process outside of that role. Families who decide to adopt solely through a lawyer for adoption typically run into a variety of issues that wouldn’t be present when working with a full-service adoption agency.
These are issues like:
• Lack of advertising: An important part of the adoption process is finding adoption opportunities for hopeful parents. This means reaching out to prospective birth mothers with family profiles through a process called adoption advertising. While adoption agencies typically have processes and staff members dedicated to this kind of advertising, adoption attorneys do not. Because of this, a family may feel the need to try to advertise by themselves, which is problematic. In some states, it is illegal for families to advertise on their own. When it is illegal, it can be costly and ineffective. For perspective, the largest national agencies carefully track marketing success and have major networking contacts, but still spend an average of $8,000 to $10,000 in advertising for each successful adoption. A family can expect to potentially pay more in advertising through an adoption law firm, especially if the ad is placed on your own.
• Longer wait times: On top of increased expenses and lower efficiency, this can also lead to longer wait times and less opportunity for a successful adoption placement. This is not necessarily because adoption attorneys lack skill. Rather, it is because this part of the adoption process is not something most are fully equipped to handle.
• Unpredictable costs: The total cost of adoption can fluctuate drastically with an adoption law firm. Many lawyers specializing in adoption bill hourly, meaning the adoption can become more expensive the longer it stretches out. Alternatively, some adoption agencies offer fixed fees so that the cost will not steadily increase with the length of the process.
• Less support for potential birth parents: Trained and licensed social workers are vital to successful adoptions. Sometimes, families get frustrated with adoption law firms because they lack a social service department skilled in evaluating, educating and guiding prospective birth mothers through the adoption process. As a result, families can end up in an adoption opportunity with birth mothers who aren’t strongly committed to adoption, aren’t emotionally prepared or don’t understand the process, which can result in an adoption disruption.
• Less availability: Availability with adoption lawyers and adoption law firms can be limited. This can be because most adoption attorneys are working on a handful of cases at once, but also because adoption law firms do not have the staff to answer calls or respond to questions after work hours. As any family will quickly find, the needs of an adoption don’t always come up between 9–5, and having someone who answers the phone is important.
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