Establishing Legal Parent/Child Relationship
What is Adoption Law?
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.
Know Your Rights!
- Surrogacy and the Law
What are the laws related to surrogacy? How does the process work? What does one need to think about when considering using a surrogate?
- What is the Difference Between Adoption and Guardianship?
When accepting responsibility for the welfare of a child, there are many difficult questions to consider. But one that often confuses people is the difference between adoption and guardianship. Does one have to adopt a child in order to act like a parent and be responsible for the child, or is there a simpler way?
Articles About Adoption Law
- Rights of Lineal Relatives After AdoptionWhen a person is adopted, the legal relationship between that individual and birth parents and other individuals is altered. In many states, adoption creates new lineage that basically substitutes a person’s natural family for his or her adoptive family. Questions regarding the rights of extended family members to children who were adopted out of the family often arise in the will and estate area of law.
- Adoption and DivorceWhen a couple decides to get divorced, they agree to sever their legal relationship with each other. However, both parties still have legal rights and responsibilities related to their children, whether they were born of the marriage or part of an adoption. In most situations, the fact that the children were adopted will not differ from whether the children were born of the marriage. However, there are some exceptions.
- Is It Possible to Reverse an Adoption?While adoption can help place a child in a home with parents who want to care for the child, adoption does not always work out. The process is different to stop an adoption that has not yet gone through versus reversing one once it has been finalized. It also depends on the person who wishes to reverse the adoption.
- Discouraging Adoption Fraud and Misrepresentation / Duty to Report Abuse and Guarding of ConfidentialityEspecially in the case of adoption, the Code specifically requires an attorney to actively discourage adoption fraud or misrepresentation and prohibits the attorney from engaging in such conduct.
- Setting and Communicating Attorney FeesBoth Codes require that an attorney enter into a written fee agreement with a client and requires the attorney to carefully explain and ensure that the client understands the fee agreement. The fees collected by an attorney with respect to an adoption or surrogacy cannot be illegal or unconscionable and must be commensurate with the services provided.
- Appraising All Parties of Their Rights and ObligationsAdoptions and Surrogacy Agreements raise substantial ethical considerations. Particularly in the case of Surrogacy Agreements, the parties are essentially contracting with one another for the use of another woman’s uterus.
- What Benefits Is My Same-Sex Spouse or Domestic Partner Entitled to?Due to a number of important Supreme Court decisions in the 21st century, married same-sex spouses are entitled to a number of benefits that were previously outside their reach. While domestic partners may be entitled to some benefits, married spouses are typically eligible for more benefits. Marriage is a factor in many federal benefits.
- Illinois Adoptees Can Receive Original Birth Certificates Thanks to Illinois Adoption LawRelatively new laws in the Illinois legislature have made it easier for persons who have been adopted to receive their original birth certificates. Both adoptees and surrendered persons born in Illinois may request a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate.
- Making the Decision to AdoptThere are many questions you need to ask yourself before making the life-changing decision to adopt a child.
- What Are the Possible Legal Issues Related to Sperm Donors?More and more Americans are turning to in vitro fertilization as a means of conceiving. Sometimes the sperm donor for these procedures is known, sometimes he is not. In either instance, what are the possible legal issues related to both the mother and biological father as the sperm donor?
- All Family Law Related Articles
US Adoption Laws
- ABA - Adoption Committee
- Adoption Law - Overview Cornell
- Adoption Laws by State - Child Adoption Laws.com
- Child Citizenship Act of 2000
- Human Rights Campaign - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Adoption Rights
- Indian Child Welfare Act
- Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
- LGBT rights in the United States - Wikipedia
- Uniform Adoption Act (1994)
Organizations Regarding Adoption Law
- Adoption and Child Welfare Law Site
- American Association of Open Adoption Agencies
- Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
- Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
- Intercountry Adoption - Bureau of Consular Affairs
- National Center for Adoption Law and Policy