Adoption Law


What is Adoption Law?

Adoption is the legal establishment of a parent-child relationship between an adopted child and adopting parent(s). This includes the legal obligations, rights, privileges and duties which exist between biological parents and children.

Adoption is a common legal option for couples or individuals that wish to have a child without giving birth themselves. Some people may not be able to have children of their own, and some simply wish to offer a loving home to an orphan without a family, so adoption may be the perfect solution.

Because adopting a child is such a big, life-changing step, the legal process of adoption is not easy. Individuals or couples looking into adoption have to go through rigorous application processes, interviews, evaluations, paperwork, etc. Adoption agencies have to ensure the child’s safety and their best interests are always put first. Thus they must make sure the adopting parties in question are going to be the best choice for that particular child.

Adoption is the option couples or individuals choose to provide a new family for a child. People choose adoptions when they cannot have children of their own, or if they wish to provide a loving home environment for children who need a home. The decision for adoption is very rewarding.

Adoption Legal Issues:

Those who wish to go through with adoption must be willing to start a new life together and deal with the lengthy and complicated legal issues. Finding reputable adoption agencies and conducting appropriate research is essential. It is also important to know your legal rights and responsibilities during the adoption process. Issues that commonly come up are complications with the biological parents of the child or children, adopting a child overseas and adoption rights of same-sex couples.

What a Lawyer can do for you:

An adoption law lawyer can clarify concerns for people interested in adoption. An attorney can advise you if adoption is the right option for you or if you are eligible for adoption. An adoption lawyer can also tell you about what to expect at the beginning, middle and end of the adoption process. An attorney can work with you to protect your interests and ensure a positive outcome for your case.

Adoption Lawyers

The legal process of adoption is quite complicated, thus making adoption lawyers a valuable resource for anyone looking to adopt. An adoptoin lawyer can help a potential parent or family through the entire process, from the start of finding a reputable adoption agency to the completion of all paperwork and ensuring the child is safe in the new home. There may be additional laws to navigate if adopting a child from another country or adopting into a same-sex couple.

In addition, issues regarding the child’s biological parents may come up in the future, and a family law lawyer that is experienced in adoption cases may be necessary. An adoption is a two step process in which the legal rights and obligations between a child and biological parents are ended, while the same rights are created between the child and adoptive parents.

II ADOPTION AND FOSTER CARE Adoption differs from foster care, a situation in which a child is temporarily placed with a foster family. An adopted child becomes a permanent member of the adoptive family, with all the rights and privileges of a biological child, including the right of inheritance. Adoptive parents gain the right to make decisions in the child's best interests regarding such issues as medical treatment and education.

Foster care, on the other hand, is designed to provide temporary care for children. Children generally are placed in foster care by child welfare agencies. Some of these children are voluntarily placed in foster care when circumstances, such as a serious illness, prevent their parents from caring for them. In cases of child abuse or neglect, social service agencies may remove children involuntarily and place them with foster parents. Most foster placements are made with the intention of reuniting the biological family at a later time. Agencies also place children in foster care while searching for adoptive parents. Families wishing to adopt a child sometimes serve as foster parents for the child until the adoption can be completed.

III TYPES OF ADOPTIONS A) Adoptions by Relatives or Stepparents Adoptions by relatives, such as aunts, uncles, brothers, or sisters are generally easier to arrange than adoptions by people who are not biologically related to the child. Many children already live with the relatives who seek to adopt them. Social service agencies usually perform background checks, such as screening the adoptive parent for a history of criminal behavior or child abuse. However, background checks of relatives seeking to adopt are generally less extensive than the checks required of adoptive parents who are not related to the child.

In a stepparent adoption, the spouse of a biological parent adopts the child. Stepparents often adopt the children of their spouse to establish a closer relationship with the children and to become their legal guardian. Adoption by stepparents is the most common form of adoption. Because a biological parent of the child lives in the household, this type of adoption is usually the simplest to arrange. Background investigations are often waived. Because the law recognizes only two parents for each child, the parental rights of the biological parent who does not live with the child must be terminated. Usually, the biological parent who does not have custody of the child consents to the adoption.

B) Agency and Private-Placement Adoptions Adoptions by people who are not related to the child are more complicated. In the United States, people may seek to adopt through an agency or arrange an independent, or private-placement, adoption. In an agency adoption, the people who wish to adopt a child contact a state agency or a state-licensed agency and make their intentions known. The agency will then conduct a home study, a detailed investigation into the background of the applicants. In addition to screening for a history of child abuse or criminal activity, investigators usually examine the applicants' personal relationships, social attitudes, medical records, and financial status. If the applicants are approved, the agency will then seek to locate a child available for adoption.

In an independent, or private-placement, adoption, locating a child is the responsibility of the person or persons seeking to adopt. A home study must be conducted by the appropriate state agency, a state-licensed adoption agency, or a state-licensed social worker authorized to conduct home studies. Some states do not allow independent adoptions. People who choose to adopt independently usually do so because agencies have no children available for adoption at a particular time or require long waiting periods. Many people seeking to adopt independently locate an available child by making contacts with others involved in the adoption process and exchanging information. Others locate children through advertising. Some people seeking to adopt install an unlisted toll-free telephone number in their home and place newspaper advertisements throughout the country.

C) Intermediaries and Materially Assisting Persons An intermediary is generally a person who helps people wishing to adopt by locating parents who wish to make an adoption plan for their child. Some states prohibit the use of intermediaries, whether paid or unpaid. Other states do not allow the use of paid intermediaries. Some states have laws regarding who may serve as an intermediary.

Once a suitable child has been located, a person materially assisting in an adoption helps prospective parents through the adoption process. Most people seeking to adopt independently will retain an attorney specializing in adoption to advise and assist in the process. Some states limit the activities an attorney or other materially assisting person can perform. People who live in states with restrictive laws can adopt in another state with more liberal laws.

D) Open and Closed Adoptions: Adoptions may be open or closed. An open adoption involves some exchange of personal information. At the very least, one party will furnish information relevant to the child's future well-being, such as medical history or financial status. In some cases, the biological parents may maintain personal contact with the child after the adoption. The adoptive and biological parents generally negotiate these issues before the child is adopted and, in many cases, months before the child is born. The desires of the biological parents usually determine the outcome of such negotiations. The biological parents may refuse to proceed with the adoption if the adoptive parents do not agree to go along with their wishes. State laws concerning the enforceability of such agreements vary.

In a closed adoption, the biological parents and adoptive parents do not exchange information or have any personal contact. Only a few states require a direct exchange of information between birth parents and adoptive parents. However, all states have laws establishing whether court files regarding adoptions are to be open or closed. If the files are open, state laws regulate who has access to them and when they may be examined. Some state agencies have additional policies regarding these issues.

IV LEGAL ISSUES Once an adoption has been arranged, the court verifies that the rights of the biological parents were not violated and that their decision to offer the child up for adoption was voluntary. The court can invalidate an adoption if fraud, duress, or undue influence was exerted on the birth parents. In states that mandate counseling for parents who wish to offer their child up for adoption, the courts make sure that adequate counseling is provided. Some states require biological parents to retain an attorney to represent their interests. The courts also verify compliance with laws limiting financial assistance to biological parents. These laws attempt to keep biological parents from being influenced by financial incentives and to minimize the costs associated with adoption. Generally, the court will appoint an adoption agency or the state's child-protective services agency to assess the child's adjustment in the adoptive home.

In the United States, custody laws tend to favor biological parents until the adoption process is completed. Each state has different laws concerning when the parental rights of birth parents are terminated. After this point, the biological parents can no longer change their mind and attempt to reclaim custody of the child, unless fraud, duress, or undue influence can be proven. Problems sometimes arise if the birth mother does not know who fathered the child or identifies the wrong person as the biological father. Many states have laws that terminate an unidentified biological father's parental rights to reclaim custody of an adopted child. However, some state laws preserve these rights for an unspecified period of time. The trend appears to be to limit the time-period in which the unidentified biological father may assert his parental rights.

V INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION A significant number of people seek to adopt children from other countries, a process known as international adoption. People seek to adopt abroad for many reasons. Many people want to adopt an infant or a very young child. Some also hope to adopt children who share their ethnic heritage. Such prospective parents may find a shortage of suitable children available for adoption in the United States. Publicity regarding the availability of infants in a particular country also encourages some people to seek to adopt there. Many people adopt abroad because of anxieties regarding domestic adoptions, especially fears that the birth mother will refuse to proceed with an arranged adoption after she gives birth to the child. In a few, well-publicized cases in the United States, biological parents have attempted to reclaim their child years after it was adopted, adding to the worries of prospective parents.

Three methods can be used for international adoption. The majority of prospective adoptive parents use an adoption agency. Others consult adoption facilitators in the United States. Some prospective parents choose to establish direct communication with contacts in a particular country. Many state-licensed adoption agencies place children from other countries. These agencies are familiar with the adoption laws of foreign countries and usually maintain contacts in countries where many children are waiting to be adopted. Agencies send information about the adoptive parents directly to their contacts, who then locate an appropriate child for the adoptive parents.

Facilitators in the United States also help prospective parents locate suitable children abroad. Facilitators usually have foreign contacts who help resolve legal issues pertaining to adoption in a particular country. In some cases, facilitators travel to other countries and directly assist in adoptions. Prospective parents can also work with facilitators in another country or deal directly with foreign institutions, such as orphanages.

People who wish to adopt abroad must follow the procedures and requirements of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Before an international adoption can go forward, the results of a home study and extensive documentation must be submitted to both the INS and the courts in the child's country of origin. Required documentation usually includes birth certificates, marriage certificates, letters of employment, medical letters, and personal references.

The legal process in the child's country of origin results in either a full and final adoption or a guardianship, in which the prospective parent is granted custody of the child until the adoption is finalized. If a full and final adoption has been approved in the child's country of origin and the INS has permitted the child to enter the United States, parents can usually get U.S. birth certificates and citizenship papers without readopting the child in the United States. However, the U.S. State Department recommends readoption in the United States. When a guardianship is established in the child's country of origin, prospective parents must complete normal pre-adoption procedures, such as a home study, in their local county court in order to obtain a visa for the child. The adoption must be finalized when the child comes to live in the United States.

All adoptive parents worry about the health of their adopted children. In many developing nations and in some countries of Eastern Europe, poor medical treatment can lead to health problems among young children. Medical records may be unavailable or incomplete. Prospective parents should consult a physician regarding the health of the child they are seeking to adopt prior to the adoption. After a child has been adopted from abroad, parents should try to find a pediatrician who is familiar with the medical conditions in the country in which the child was born. Many local hospitals in the United States have doctors on staff who are well-versed in this area.

VI SOCIAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES RELATED TO ADOPTION A) Psychological Stress and Adoption Support Groups People who find that they cannot give birth to children often grieve for the biological children they might have had. Once the grieving process is over, many people who desire to become parents seek to adopt. The adoption process itself can be emotionally draining. During this stressful period people often seek emotional support from professional counselors or adoptive parent support groups. These groups, made up of adoptive parents and people currently engaged in the adoption process, often provide invaluable assistance and information to their members. Many people trying to adopt feel isolated, and participating in an adoption support group provides them with a sympathetic community of people who understand their feelings. Many groups provide information about parenting for people who have adopted children. Some support groups also provide a community setting where adopted children can interact with other adopted children. Support groups for adoptive parents exist throughout the United States. They can be located through the Internet, local libraries, adoption agencies, or attorneys specializing in adoption.

B) Telling Adopted Children About Their Adoption: Adoptive Parents must decide if and when to tell their children about their adoption. In the past, parents often kept information related to the adoption from the child until he or she became an adult. Some parents never told their adopted children about their adoption. Most adoptive parents withheld this information to protect their children from the trauma of discovering that they were not biologically related to other family members. When such children discovered that they were adopted, the bond of trust between parent and child often suffered. Sometimes family relationships deteriorated as a result.

Today most parents tell children about their adoption at the earliest possible age. Children accept and absorb the fact of their adoption in different ways at different stages of their development. Knowing the story behind their adoption allows children to gradually come to terms with their past, rather than having to deal with psychological issues related to adoption later in life.

C) Searching for Biological Parents The attitude of most adoptive parents to their children's desire to search for their birth parents has changed as well. In the past, adoptive parents often viewed their child's desire to search for his or her biological parents as a rejection of themselves and their family unit. Unwilling to upset their adoptive parents, many adopted people searched for their birth parents in secret or waited until their adoptive parents died before beginning their search. Many adopted people feel that they must find the answers to certain questions about their origins before they can go forward with their lives. Today many adoptive parents support their adult child's search for his or her biological parents. Some states have developed adoption registries through which adult adopted individuals and birth parents can locate each other. Some states require registration, while others simply encourage voluntary participation in their registry programs.

D) Transracial Adoptions Additional issues arise when adopted children come from a different culture than their adoptive parents. Adoptions in which the adoptive parents and their adopted child are of different races, known as transracial adoptions, pose special difficulties. When children belong to a different race than either of their parents, others in the community very quickly become aware that the children are adopted. Transracial adoptive families often face everything from innocent curiosity to outright hostility and prejudice. Many adoptive parents educate themselves about their child's birth culture so that they can offer their child support and help build self-esteem.

Some people believe transracial adoptions should be allowed only as a last resort or banned altogether. Other groups feel just as strongly that race should not be a consideration in the placement of children. In 1994 Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act, which forbid adoption agencies from establishing separate waiting lists to match children with adoptive families of similar ethnic or racial heritage. However, the act permits agencies to consider ethnicity and race as one factor in determining the best home for a child.

Lawyer Referral Service

When looking into adoption, you have legal rights and responsibilities that a family law lawyer can help you to understand. An adoption lawyer may be essential in navigating the complex process of adoption. Attorney Search Network can refer you to an experienced family law lawyer that will guide you through this process.

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