Adoption Procedures

Learn more about the different types of adoptions and the steps you need to take for each.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School

Types of Adoption

Before you start the adoption process, you should familiarize yourself with the different types of adoptions. For a more in-depth look at types of adoption, take a look at this Nolo article, titled Types of Adoption.

Stepparent Adoption

Stepparent adoption is a court process that allows a custodial parent's new spouse to adopt that parent's child legally. Stepparent adoption is commonly used when the child's other biological parent is either unidentified, out of the child's life, consents to the adoption, or doesn't have parental rights (due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.) Once the court completes the adoption, the spouse has all the same rights and responsibilities that the biological parent has towards the child.

Second Parent Adoption

Second parent adoption was popular among same-sex couples before the United States Supreme Court issued its decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Second parent adoption is like step-parent adoption because it allows an unrelated parent to adopt the child without the custodial parent losing parental rights, but unlike stepparent adoption, the couple doesn't need to be legally married. Not all states allow second-parent adoptions, so check with an attorney before you begin the process.

Domestic or International Adoption

The most common type of adoption where a couple—or single parent—decides to adopt a child in need from the United States or another country.

Every Adoption Has One Thing in Common: Consent

Although it may seem like adoptions are primarily about the adoptive child and prospective family, the birth parents play a vital role. Parental rights are some of the most highly protected legal rights. For any adoption to be legal, the birth parents must consent to permanently terminate (end) their parental rights. The only time parental consent is not required is if a court has already revoked parental rights for other reasons, like abuse or neglect, after a court hearing.

Consent may be the most emotional and complicated step in the adoption process. Most states require parents to wait until the child is born before consenting to the adoption, which means they could change their mind at any time until they sign the official consent documents. Other states permit biological parents to consent before the child is born, but require the parent's to reaffirm the approval before the adoption can proceed.

Getting consent from the biological parents can be a complicated process. In fact, many states allow biological parents to revoke their consent for up to three months after they sign away their rights, meaning the adoptive parents may have to return the child with which they've formed an emotional bond. Not only is adoption challenging for biological parents, but it's also a life-changing event for the children. Because removing a child from a prospective adoptive family may be detrimental to the child and the adoptive family, many states require biological parents to undergo counseling before allowing them to consent to adoption.

State's differ widely on when birth parents can give permission, so you'll want to check your state laws, contact an adoption agency, and/or meet with an attorney who specializes in adoptions.

The Home Study

Every parent must complete a home study before adopting a child. A home study educates and evaluates the adoptive family to make sure the adoption is in the child's best interest. Typically, a licensed social worker or another state agent will complete the study. The representative will request a significant amount of information from the family, including:

  • consent to perform a federal criminal background check
  • detailed statements to demonstrate financial stability
  • medical questionnaire from the family
  • birth certificates
  • marriage license (if applicable)
  • child abuse clearances, and
  • personal references.

Your home study representative will also meet with you at your home on at least one occasion. The purpose of the home visit is to ensure that your house, and everyone living in it, are prepared to welcome a child and that you're ready and fit to parent. The entire home study process may take as few as a couple of months or can take up to a year to complete.

Although the home study agent has the power to write a positive or negative review, it's the court that makes a final decision about your ability to adopt a child. If you're unhappy with the result of your home study, you can appeal it through the court. Some states allow parents to file a separate appeal, while others make it a part of the adoption process.

The Legal Process

Regardless of the type of adoption—whether it's independent, through an agency, or step-parent—every case must receive court approval before the adoption can become final. The adoptive parents must submit a petition (request) for adoption with the court, pay the filing fees, and go through the hearing process in court, before a judge. The purpose of the hearing is for the judge to verify that the adoptive parents meet all state requirements, which shouldn't be a complicated process if the parents obtained the necessary information throughout the adoption process.

Step One: Notice

Before the adoption hearing may take place, the adoptive parents must provide notice of the hearing to anyone legally involved in the child's life. In most cases, you must send notice to the child's biological parents, legal guardian, adoption agency, and in some cases, the adoptive child (depending on the age.) Check with your adoption representative or attorney to learn about your state's specific notice requirements.

Step Two: The Adoption Petition

You'll work with your adoption agency or attorney to complete the adoption petition. The petition generally includes:

  • names, ages, and residences of the adoptive parents, the child, and the birth parents
  • a statement that the adoptive parents understand their rights and duties
  • the legal reason for terminating the biological parent's rights
  • the relationship between the adoptive parents and child (such as non-familial or step-parent)
  • a statement that the adoptive parents are the best caregivers for the child, and
  • a statement that the adoption is in the child's best interest.

It's important to include a copy of the biological parent's written consent to the adoption with your petition. If the court involuntarily terminated parental rights, you should add a copy of the court order. Lastly, in most cases, the adoptive parents would like to change the child's name, which can be done by filing a request for a name change with your adoption petition.

The Last Step: The Hearing

In most cases, the court hearing is a simple formality, but it can be an exciting and life-altering day for the new family. The judge will ask the adoptive parents, under oath, if they understand the impact of the adoption, including their rights to raise and obligations to support the child. If the court finds that the adoption is in the child's best interest, the judge will sign the adoption order, and if necessary, an order for a name change.

If you have questions about adopting a child, you should contact a local adoption attorney.

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