One of the more complicated areas in family law is adoption. This legal creation of a relationship between a parent and child who do not have any biological relation makes adoption law a complex subject matter. The primary purpose behind laws governing adoption are to protect the best interests and needs of the children that are involved. The following article covers the basics of what to expect if you or someone you know is considering adoption.
What is Adoption?
Adoption is the legal process in which an individual, or two individuals living together, take a child or adult in as their own. The adoption process gives potential parents all of the legal rights and responsibilities of natural birth parents. Likewise, their adopted child will inherit all the rights they would have as if they were their natural child. The child would also inherit their last name and receive a new birth certificate, which also gives the parents the ability to change the child's first name.
Why Do We Adopt?
There are a number of reasons why people may choose to adopt. Many parents will tell you that there is nothing quite as fulfilling as raising a child. In that case couples that are infertile or unable to have a child of their own may opt for adoption. Others may adopt simply because they can and want to help a child that finds themselves in foster care. No matter how they ended up there, each child comes from a different background with a different story of their own. These are some common reasons why children are put into adoption:
- Children are voluntarily put up for adoption by parents who will not or cannot take care of a child for reasons that may have to do with finances or current living situations, but want their children to have the chance for a better life.
- Some children are removed from their homes by court order because of neglect or abuse at the hands of their birth parents. These parents do not want to give up their children, but their parental rights are terminated by the court for the children's well-being.
- Adoption by stepparents is common when a mother or father remarries after a divorce or death of a spouse. Their new husband or wife may choose to adopt their child to become the legal guardians. If however the other birth parent is still alive, they must give their permission for the adoption before it can occur. In some cases, permission is not needed if the other parent has been absent or had no contact with the child for 6 months or more.
- Most adoptions are of children under the age of 18, however there are circumstances where adults can be adopted:
- For inheritance purposes, it allows someone to leave property or financial assets to an individual more easily after they've been adopted.
- Reuniting with birth parents or family; like biological parents and children that want to formalize a relationship, or fathers who may discover children they never knew about.
Types of Adoption & Rights of Parents
There are two different types of adoption; agency adoptions and private placement adoptions.
- Agency Adoptions are children who are in the custody of the state or a state licensed adoption agency. Agencies take in children either voluntarily from the birth parents or by court order due to legal problems. It is then up to the agency to consent to an adoption when there is a potential candidate.
- Private Placement Adoptions deal with children who are neither under the care of the state or licensed agency. These adoptions are usually made through private agreements between biological parents and people who are looking to adopt. This process can involve stepparents or other family members. Unrelated individuals will find children through newspaper write-ups or some sort of notice. If people want to adopt children that are already under their care, they must request certification when they file for adoption.
In private placement adoptions, consent is required by the child's birth parents. If this surrender agreement is given in writing in court before a judge, the decision is irrevocable and the birth parent/s cannot reconsider and have the child returned. However, if the consent is given in writing with a notary outside of court, the birth parent/s have up to 45 days to change their mind and cancel the agreement.
In either case, adoptive parents must receive a court certification and complete a home study before taking the child home. When a child is 14 years or older, they must also consent to the adoption.
An Open Adoption is an agreement made between birthparents and adoptive parents that allow the birth parents to stay in contact with the child. If the adoptive parents decide later on to not allow the birth parents see the child, then the birth parents will have to go to court to enforce the agreement. In this situation they will have to provide proof of the open adoption agreement as well as prove how their continued contact would be beneficial to the child.
The Adoption Process
We all know that legal processes tend to take time, and the adoption process is no exception. From the time you begin the initial application process to the time when you bring a child home, can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months. Even after that, it may take months before the court finalizes the adoption. This is a brief overview of the steps taken during the adoption process as seen on the NYS Office of Children and Family Services webpage:
- Choosing an adoption agency.
- Completing and submitting an application.
- Completing the home study; a series of meetings and interviews with the adopting family and agency.
- Attending agency sponsored training.
- Working with your caseworker to find an appropriate match.
- Starting the process of visiting with the child/children.
- Applying for adoption subsidies; monthly payments made to help with the care and support of a child who is considered handicapped.
- Completing three months of supervision. The state requires this period of supervision after placement before the adoption becomes final. A caseworker from the agency visits regularly during this waiting period to ensure that the family can provide for the child and that they are comfortable with each other.
- Finalizing the adoption in court.
As adopted children grow up they sometimes develop interest in their history; like ethnic background, medical history, or who their birth parents were and what they did. There's a variety of reasons children may seek this information. For some, it helps to find closure for questions that were never answered. There are however laws that control the release of personal information pertaining to adoptions and birth families. This link for the NYS Adoption Information Registry provides further information on reconnecting with birth families. They are the only registry authorized to access sealed information for people born or adopted in New York State.
Adoption law incorporates a lot of moving parts and circumstances that can get very complicated right from the beginning. The only way to successfully complete a legal adoption is with the help of an experienced family attorney. Your attorney will make sure each step of the adoption process is done correctly with all the required documents and certifications. The attorneys at Hall Ricketts Schuller & Gurbacki are experienced family lawyers that provide the special focus and attention to detail that is needed during the adoption process.