Adoption law provides a means for parents to voluntarily assume the legal rights and responsibilities of a child not born to them. Following an adoption, all legal ties between the child and the birth parents are permanently severed. The new adoptive parents and the child are treated just like a natural family in the eyes of the law. The adoptive parents decide important matters involving medical treatment, education, and religion, as well as ordinary day-to-day issues that arise in the child’s life. Adopted children can inherit from their new parents the same as natural offspring. Some jurisdictions even provide for the issuance of an amended birth certificate displaying the new parents’ names.
State statutes govern adoption proceedings, and the substantive and procedural rules vary across the country. Most statutes require the local department of family services to perform a home study to ensure a stable environment free of dangers and bad influences. Those interested in adoption must also meet age and income requirements. Criminal background checks will be completed, and first-time parents may be asked to attend instructional classes. Statutory requirements like these are meant to help judges, case workers, and prospective parents create a safe and nurturing home environment.
Termination of Parental Rights
Before an adoption degree can be entered, the parental rights of the birth mother and father must be terminated. This allows those same rights to be conferred upon the adoptive parents, and it prevents the birth parents from attempting to exercise control over the child at a later time. In some cases, the birth mother and father will agree to relinquish their rights, making the process as simple as collecting their signatures on a legal document and filing it with the court. Other times, obtaining a termination of parental rights can be a difficult hurdle for the adoptive parents and their attorney.
When termination of the birth parents’ rights is contested, the matter must be heard before the family law court. Both natural parents must be afforded due notice of the hearing and an opportunity to object. The hearing itself will be conducted much like a trial. The adoptive parents must present “clear and convincing” evidence that the birth parents are unfit to care for the child.
Evidence presented at a termination hearing will typically demonstrate the birth parents’ lack of interest in the child’s wellbeing, their failure to pay child support, and any history of domestic violence or substance abuse. Each case is different, and an adoption lawyer will be helpful in determining the best types of evidence to use in a particular case. The goal is to prove to the judge that terminating parental rights and approving the adoption decree is in the child’s best interests.
Open vs. Closed Adoptions
A common question of those considering an adoption concerns who will have the right to have contact with the child once the adoption is final. The answer is that, just like natural parents, the adoptive parents will have complete authority to decide the matter. In an open adoption, the adoptive parents allow the child to have some degree of contact with birth parents, previous foster families, and other individuals from the child’s life prior to the adoption. In a closed adoption, they do not. These issues are often settled in advance, especially in cases of infant adoption and adoptions arranged through private agencies. In the United Sates, there is a clear trend toward open adoptions. But of course, there may be concerns about the birth parents that make a closed adoption the appropriate choice.
Adoption by a Stepparent
Marriage can involve more than the union of two adults. When one of the spouses has children from a previous relationship, the marriage creates a new family, and the other spouse may come to love and care for the children as though they were his or her own. However, the law does not treat stepparent and natural parent relationships equally. The birth parent from the previous relationship still has the same legal rights as existed before the marriage. Stepparent adoption is a way to remedy this situation.
Besides reflecting the love a stepparent feels toward a child, adoption offers practical advantages to the entire family. For example, the stepparent may be called upon to make emergency medical decisions for the child, and an adoption will make this possible. Even if the birth parent from the old relationship has not made contact for years, a stepparent adoption will prevent that person from reappearing one day and causing a disruption. Finally, the adoption will ensure that the stepparent can retain custody should the natural parent unexpectedly pass away or become disabled.
Working with an Adoption Lawyer
If you are considering an adoption, working with an attorney can make the process go more smoothly. Hiring legal counsel is particularly important if you expect the birth parent whose rights will be terminated to be uncooperative. For more information, contact an adoption lawyer in your area.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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