Adoption is a major life-changing event in which you welcome a new member to your family. And while the financial and legal responsibilities of parenthood end when the child reaches the age of majority (typically 18), adoptive families are a lifetime commitment. Therefore, it’s important to do your research before you start the adoption process.
There are several different types of adoption or providing foster care before adoption, which you may want to consider as you think about growing your family.
Adopting Through an Agency
Adoption agencies can be a public agency or a private agency regulated by the state and licensed to place children with prospective adoptive parents. Public adoption agencies typically handle children who are wards of the state, often because they’ve been abandoned, orphaned or abused, or are older children.
Private adoption agencies are often run by charities and social service organizations and typically place children who have been brought to the agency by parents or expectant parents seeking to give their child up for adoption.
One of the other types of adoption involves a direct arrangement between birth mother (and sometimes the birth father) and adoptive parents, sometimes using a go-between such as a doctor or member of the clergy. Because of the delicate nature of independent adoption, it’s probably a good idea for the adoptive parents to hire an attorney to handle the paperwork. Not all states allow independent adoptions, and many states regulate them extensively, so check your state’s laws before exploring this option. One variety of independent adoption is often referred to as “open adoption,” where the biological parents maintain some form of limited contact even after adoption, though all parental rights stay with the adoptive parents.
Adopting Through Identification
Identified adoptions are a combination of independent and agency adoptions. Usually, the adoptive parents find a mother wanting to put a child up for adoption, and then both sets of parents ask an adoption agency to control the rest of the process. This process often includes a home study, questions, interviews, and careful analysis.
The advantage over a straight agency adoption is there is no “waitlist” for the adoptive parents. Prospective parents can also have greater control over choosing the child they adopt and still benefit from the counseling and professional services afforded by an agency.
Adopting internationally is the most complicated of all the different types of adoption. To adopt a child who is a citizen of a foreign country, you must satisfy both the laws of the state you live in as well as the laws of the host country. Parents must also obtain an immigrant visa for the child through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the child will be granted U.S. citizenship automatically upon entering the U.S.
Note also that, as of April 1, 2008, international adoptions are regulated through the Hague Adoption Convention. The treaty governs U.S. federal government oversight of domestic adoption agencies and international adoption policies. This oversight is intended to protect children, biological parents and adoptive parents from unethical adoption practices, including international child abductions and adoption scams.
Agencies dealing in international adoption must now be certified by the State Department and adopting parents must prove to the State Department a variety of things:
• the foreign adoption agency has provided counseling for biological parents,
• the foreign adoption agency has secured legal consent from the biological parents,
• the foreign adoption agency has considered local placement of the child,
• and the child has been properly cleared for adoption in the U.S.
You could try to adopt internationally without an agency, but because of the complexity of the process, most adoptive parents choose to use the services of a U.S. agency specializing in international adoptions.
Adopt as Stepparents
A stepparent adoption occurs when a parent’s new spouse adopts the parent’s child from a different partner. The process is simple compared to traditional adoption if the birth parents both consent. If one of the parents does not consent or cannot be found, however, then an attorney will need to be involved and there is a significant amount of time and paperwork involved.
Relative, or kinship adoptions as they are known in some states, occur when a child’s relative steps forward to adopt the child. Typical candidates for this type of adoption are grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the typical situations for relative adoptions involve the death or incapacitation of the birth parents. The law favors relatives raising children, and accordingly the process is significantly easier than other types of adoption.
Adult adoptions are rare, but most states provide for them. Typically, there must be at least a ten year difference between the age of the parent and that of the adult being adopted, and the parties must show why it’s in the best interest of the parties to allow the adoption. The primary reason why people undergo an adult adoption is to secure inheritance rights for people they have grown fond, especially when they don’t have children of their own. Most states prohibit adult adoptions when caregivers are involved, in order to prevent caregivers from taking advantage of their elderly patients.
Not Sure How to Choose Between the Different Types of Adoption? Talk to an Attorney
Every family’s needs are different and there are a variety of reasons for choosing the different adoption methods available under the law. By contacting an experienced adoption lawyer, you can find out which type of adoption will work best for you, and get legal help through the adoption process.
What Should I Consider When Choosing My Options?
The first questions relate to the child’s age. How important is it to you to adopt a newborn? Are you comfortable adopting a child who has been in group care for the first few months/years of his or her life? Domestic adoption is the only way to adopt a newborn. If you choose to adopt internationally, it means adopting an older infant or toddler.
Secondly is time frame. Although you’re anxious to grow your family, how critical is the speed of the adoption? With domestic adoption, although you do have more control over the time frame than most people think, it is still unpredictable because it depends on when you are chosen by a prospective birthmother and how far along in the pregnancy she is. Nevertheless, depending on the quality of your profile, the visibility of your profile, your openness to different situations and the professionals with whom you work, many domestic adoptions can be completed in only a few months. Alternately, international adoption is a little bit more predictable, although not nearly as predictable as people tend to think. Changes in laws, political and economic climates and even general sentiment towards the U.S. can and do impact timelines — even once you are “in process.”
Another factor to consider is the medical and social history of the birth families. With domestic adoption, often this information is extensive, at least on the birthmother’s side. Take some time to consider the medical and social history of you, your spouse and your families. Think about what that would look like on paper would you select yourselves if the situation were reversed? With international adoption, you have the advantage of medical reports on the child him/herself but rarely any information on family history.
How about the level of openness with which you’d be comfortable? Many pre-adoptive parents choose international adoption because they do not want any contact with the birth family. Most domestic adoptions these days are semi-open, meaning that the birthmother will know your first names. In many cases, all parties have met and/or had phone conversations prior to the birth. After the birth, the adoptive parents send updates and pictures to the agency, which the agency then forwards to the birthmother. Contrary to popular opinion, these updates don’t make the birthmother suddenly want to parent the child. Instead, they help reassure her that she made the right decision, that she is a good person (despite lots of people telling her how selfish she is during the process), the baby is thriving and, therefore, will not grow up to hate her (one of her biggest fears).
Are The Costs The Same?
Next come finances. Neither domestic nor international adoption is necessarily more or less expensive than the other; it all depends on the particular situation. Domestically, one can expect to spend between $20,000 and $35,000. Internationally, costs vary by country and range between $15,000 and $50,000. The total amount spent and when the payments are due are less predictable with domestic adoption than with international. Also, money is at risk in either process domestically via paid birthmother expenses and legal fees in a failed adoption and, internationally, if a country closes or significantly slows down once you’re in the adoption process.
What Should I Know About The Process?
Next let’s discuss the process. International adoption involves a traditional waiting list. Once you are on the list, you wait as you rise to the top. With domestic adoption, you create a “personal profile” shown to prospective birthmothers until one selects you, which can happen at any time. You can increase the chances of getting selected quickly by creating a powerful profile and making sure that it has as much exposure as possible through a carefully selected network of adoption agencies and attorneys. Which route feels more comfortable to you is merely personal preference.
Another key area is concerns about the birthmother. Most people just beginning a domestic adoption have a fear of the birthmother “showing up on their doorstep.” In a closed or semi-open adoption, the birthmother will not know where your doorstep is. Even if she found your doorstep, she would have no legal right to the baby once her rights are properly terminated. Most importantly, most birthmothers are at peace with their decision and have no intention of disrupting the baby’s life. Nevertheless, this fear often drives couples towards international adoption where these concerns, for the most part, do not exist.
Finally, demographics. How old are you? What is your marital status? Most people who adopt are between 30 and 45. Domestically, how young you look and how active you are is usually more important to the birthmother than your actual age. Internationally, your age may limit the countries for which you are eligible. Many countries have outright age limits and some limit the age difference that can exist between adopter and adoptee, thereby allowing older parents to adopt only older children. Additionally, some countries’ eligibility requirements specify that the adoptive parents have been married for a certain amount of time or limit the number of prior divorces allowed.
There are many important considerations that go into this decision. Being completely honest with yourself and your partner is critical. Make sure you consider all the implications of the path you choose. Be careful not to let fear and myths lead you astray. Get the facts and, based on those, make the decision that’s right for you, your family, and your forever child.
Adoption-Friendly States and Their Procedures
When couples are looking to expand their family, adoption is a giving and beautiful option. But many couples have secreted fears about adoption. Their concerns can range from the uncertainty of finding the right birth mother, to hidden medical issues, to the ever-looming possibility that a biological parent could change their mind before the adoption is finalized. In addition to the practical and emotional concerns, new parents may also be leery of the process of adoption.
Initially it is important for couples to understand the basic process of adopting a child:
• The first step is to contact an agency or an attorney who specializes in adoption. It is through the expertise of those in the community who facilitate adoptions on a regular basis that many questions can be answered and many fears can be put to rest.
• Second, the couple needs to be ready to undergo the scrutiny of the adoption home study. It will be necessary for the adopting couple to meet with a social worker on several occasions in order for a thorough investigation to be completed before an adoption can be approved.
• Third, the adopting family must wait for the right prospective birth mother to come forward, or to find the right child via the social services system. This step takes time and patience and is imperative so that the most compatible match can be made for both the child and the adoptive parents.
• Once the match has been made, the fourth step is to have the consent of all of the parties involved, including the biological parents, the adoptive parents, and if the child is old enough, the desires and consent of the child being adopted.
• The fifth step is to begin the process of filing the adoption paperwork with the court. Once the birth mother and father have consented to the adoption and the transition of custody is imminent, it is time for the court to become involved.
• After the court has reviewed the request for adoption, the court will issue a signed custody order. This order confirms that the Judge is in agreement with all of the submitted paperwork and is ready to approve the adoption.
• Once custody has been transferred to the adoptive parents, social services will proceed with in-home follow up visits to ensure that the adjustment of both the child and the adoptive parents is going smoothly. If any issues present themselves, the social worker will be readily able to advise the family or to set up additional services as needed.
• If all goes well and the family and the new child are thriving, a court date will be set to finalize the adoption.
Most state laws and regulations are designed to facilitate a smooth and easy transition for the successful placement of children in need of homes. However, each state’s regulations do vary. Some states require more scrutiny of the adoptive parents than others. Other states give the birth mother and/or father more time to change their mind prior to the adoption becoming final.
For example, some of the friendliest adoptive states seem to be:
• New Hampshire
• New Mexico
Some of the less adoption-friendly states include California, Maine, Maryland, Ohio and Rhode Island. However, it is absolutely still possible to adopt in these states, and there are many local and national adoption professionals who can assist families in navigating the process and their state’s laws. It is highly advised that each couple take the time to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the particular rules and regulations of the state in which they will adopt their new child.
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