Domestic adoption law is a complex matter that differs from state to state. Various laws have evolved to protect children, birth parents, and adoptive families.
Courts prescribe adoption procedures; determine who can adopt and who can be adopted; and dictate the legal effects of an adoption on all involved. These decisions often establish principles that become precedents for future cases.
Birth Mother’s Rights
There are certain rights granted to Birth Mothers in the adoption process that should never be violated under any circumstance. These rights are intended to empower the Birth Mother and ensure that her decisions are made in a free and informed manner. These rights also protect her against instances of fraud or coercion.
In most cases, a birth mother must provide her written consent for the adoption of her child to the adoptive parents or agency in order for the proceedings to proceed. Usually, this will occur within 48 hours of the child’s birth or after the birth center has confirmed that the woman is competent to give consent. Moreover, if the child is being adopted out of wedlock, the father must be given notice of the adoption (Father’s Rights) and his consent must also be obtained if possible.
If a birth mother does not wish to relinquish her parental rights, she may file a petition for termination of parental rights in court. The state of California requires a judge to evaluate this request and determine if it is in the best interests of the child. The judge will consider the adoptive parent’s ability to care for the child as well as the birth mother’s wishes in order to make this decision.
A judge will also examine whether the birth mother has demonstrated a commitment to the responsibilities of being a parent. This is a serious consideration and usually, this will be considered as evidence in a court case regarding the termination of parental rights.
The law surrounding adoption is complicated and requires an experienced family law attorney to navigate. Adoption laws are governed by state law with federal laws providing overarching standards that must be followed. Without a legal professional, it can be very easy to make mistakes that could negatively impact your case. It takes just one trip to the courthouse where you are turned away because a form was not filled out correctly, or filed incorrectly, to realize how important it is to have an attorney on your side.
Adoptive Parents’ Rights
Throughout history, adoption laws have served to protect the interests of all members of the adoption triad – the child being adopted, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Although reform efforts have primarily focused on the welfare of children, formal adoption procedures codified in law have also prevented both birth parents and prospective adoptive parents from making uninformed or precipitous decisions. The 1950s through 1970s, for example, were marked by coercive adoption practices targeted at unwed mothers, known as the “baby scoop era.”
Today, most adoptions are between related individuals. This may include intra-family adoptions (step-parents adopting a step-child) and inter-family adoptions (grandparents adopting grandchildren). Adoptions between non-related individuals can occur in cases of surrender, when the child’s parent cannot care for her or the child is deceased, or when the child has been removed from the home due to abuse, neglect or other reasons.
In order to be valid, a consent or relinquishment for adoption must be in writing and signed by the person giving it. The signature must be acknowledged before a notary public or two adult witnesses who are not the prospective adoptive parents or their attorney. The witnesses must certify that they have discussed the provisions of the document with the person giving the consent or relinquishment and, based on that discussion, it is their opinion that the consent or relinquishment is being given voluntarily and not under duress or coercion.
Any court proceedings relating to the adoption of a child or the termination of parental rights must be held in open court. The judge or surrogate, prior to signing a consent or relinquishment, must inform the parent of the consequences of that act, including that the parent has the right to be represented by legal counsel of her choice and to receive supportive counseling.
If the child is being adopted by a state agency, the written consent or relinquishment must be attached to a sworn declaration that it was signed in the presence of the head of the department, a representative of the agency, or another delegated agent, who informed the parent of her rights and options. The signatory must be advised that the written consent or relinquishment is irrevocable unless the consent or relinquishment is found to have been obtained by fraud, duress or undue influence.
Adoptive Parents’ Responsibilities
Adoptive parents have a duty to provide care and support for their adopted children. They also have a right to make decisions for their children, such as where they live, what school they go to, and what religious beliefs they should follow.
If you have decided to adopt, you must meet all the minimum pre-placement requirements, including psychological evaluation. In addition, you must obtain all the medical information available on the child. You must also be prepared to take on the cost of raising a child and to provide for their physical, emotional and intellectual needs. You must also be willing to accept the risks of adoption, such as birth defects, developmental delays, and other health issues that may affect a child throughout their life.
Once a consent to adoption has been given, the biological parents cannot revoke it. However, if they feel that they were forced into giving up their rights or if there was fraud involved, they can file a petition to get their parental rights reinstated.
A parent who wants to surrender his or her rights to a child must do so in writing and have it acknowledged by an officer authorized to take acknowledgments. It must also be signed by two adult witnesses who can verify that the signature was voluntarily executed and not obtained under duress or fraud. A court must review the written consent and approve it before it can be filed in court.
It is against the law for any state agency to discriminate against prospective adoptive parents based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors that may impact their ability to care for a child. For example, in Virginia, the adoption agency can only use “standards or criteria that do not screen out, or have the effect of screening out, an individual with a disability or class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying” the services it provides.
All people involved in the process of adoption have a right to be treated with respect and dignity. This includes the birth mother, the potential adoptive parents and their family members.
Termination of Parental Rights
Parents have a constitutional right to prevent adoption of their child without their consent. However, if the parent is unable to meet their parental obligations it may be in the best interests of the child to terminate their rights. The termination of parental rights can be voluntary or involuntary. A family law attorney can help a client determine which option is most appropriate for their situation.
The process of terminating parental rights involves a petition to the court asking the judge to end the parent’s legal relationship with their child. This is done in either probate or superior court, depending on the circumstances of the case. If a child is in foster care it may be necessary to have the court conduct a search and locate hearing for the purpose of locating the parent so they can be served with a petition to terminate their rights.
Both birth mothers and biological fathers must agree to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights before an adoption can proceed. This can be done through a licensed agency or independently, depending on the circumstances. In both cases a guardian ad litem is appointed to ensure the mother and/or father understand their rights and make an informed decision. The parent can revoke their relinquishment within 48 hours of signing it.
It is important for a parent to consult an experienced family law attorney before attempting to terminate their parental rights. The courts are generally hesitant to grant a request for the termination of parental rights unless there is clear and convincing evidence that it is in the child’s best interests. This can be difficult to prove if the child is being given up for adoption voluntarily.
Parents can petition for their rights to be reinstated if they are able to provide the child with a safe home. There are also situations where it is in the best interests of the child to have a permanent placement with another family or individual. A lawyer can guide a client through the process of terminating their parental rights and/or regaining custody of their children.