Adoption Laws: The Legal Process
A legal act begins the process of a waiting child's adoption - the termination, in court, of the parental rights of the child's birthparents. Another legal act brings the process to an end - the finalization of the adoption in court, making the new adoptive parents the child's permanent legal parents. From start to finish, there are many points along the way where adoption laws will have an effect on your child's adoption.
Each state makes its own laws in the area of adoption, according to state statute. While some federal laws do apply, practices and policies can vary widely from one state to another or even from one county to the next. To learn about laws specific to your state or jurisdiction, visit the website of the Child Welfare Information Gateway, at http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/ or contact your county's Department of Children and Youth.
To help you on your way there are a few people who will help you. Here we will describe the roles some of these people play. To adopt a waiting child or teenager, you will work primarily with an adoption agency. It is only at the end of the process that you will need an adoption attorney / lawyer, who will prepare the paperwork to be filed and represent you in court.
Not every attorney is familiar with adoption. Your agency may be able to suggest someone with whom it works regularly. You can also check with the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys at 202-832-2222 or http://www.adoptionattorneys.org
If you are adopting an infant through private adoption, your attorney will play a larger role, and you will want to take care in selecting the right individual. You may want to read the documents found at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adoptive/considerations.cfm. This links to the Child Welfare Information League’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.
If you have chosen intercountry adoption, you will also have more need for an attorney. You may want to read the documents found at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adoptive/considerations.cfm. This links to the Child Welfare Information League’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption
A judge's role in the adoption process is to make any needed changes in the child's legal status. While a waiting child is in foster care, the child's case is usually reviewed periodically in court, to determine whether the goal should be reunification with the birth family or adoption. If the goal is changed, it must be done by a judge. A family court judge will make the decision to terminate parental rights of the birth parents and will preside over the finalization hearing and issue the adoption decree.
CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers are trained community volunteers who speak for the best interests of a child in court. They are assigned by a judge to research an abuse or neglect case, and provide the judge with information to help in making a decision for the child's permanency. To learn more about CASA, visit its website at http://nationalcasa.org.
In some jurisdictions, paid child advocates are assigned to each child in care. Thus, the child may have his or her own attorney, or the advocate may be a social worker affiliated with an attorney's or public defender's office.
Each state has an individual who is designated as its adoption specialist or manager. He or she can be a resource for answering questions that pertain to the adoption statutes of that state, and resolving difficult issues.
Adoption agencies are licensed by the state in which they are located. Some large agencies may be licensed in more than one state. Ask your agency to see their licensing or you can contact your state licensing specialist to find out if an agency you are considering working with is licensed in your state.
Each state in the United States and each province in Canada has a special department which deals with the affairs of children, youth and families, including child adoption. Some counties have a similar department. These departments go by many different names, and may be a part of the state's department of social services or human services. They provide services, case management, and permanency planning for children who wait in foster care. Some also approve families for adoption.
While you may never actually visit their offices, a waiting child whom you adopt will very likely be in the care of such a department. Check the resource list for your state, or look in the blue pages of your telephone directory for a local office.
Important legal adoption decisions are made in Family Court or, in some jurisdictions, in Orphan's Court. Responsibilities of the courts include:
- periodic review of a child's case
- the termination of the birthparents' parental rights
- setting a goal for a child's future
- reviewing that goal periodically
- changing the goal, if necessary, from reunification with the birth family to adoption
- finalizing the child's adoption
Click here for a list of legal terms and their descriptions.