The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) protects the break-up of Native American families through adoption. Every state has its own rules about how to comply with ICWA, and the laws that regulate this are specific and serious. The main thrust of ICWA is that you must ask the biological family about their potential Native American heritage and document their answers. The courts will want proof that this inquiry was made and completed correctly according to the law. This usually involves completing specific, preprinted forms that vary from state to state. If a birth parent has heritage, notice of the adoption must be provided to every band and tribe of eligibility. Identifying and researching the proper person for notice can be laborious and time consuming, especially if you’ve never done it before. An experienced adoption attorney will know which forms must be completed and by whom. She or he will also know where and with whom to file the forms so as to be in compliance with ICWA. The attorney will also know the proper consent documents a birth parent must sign if the child is deemed Native American. The adoption is at risk if ICWA isn’t properly complied with. (See in re Baby Veronica).
The law limits the amount of time a child may stay in foster care by establishing shorter timelines for determining when she or he must have a plan for permanency. The law states that permanency court hearings must be held for children no later than 12 months after they enter foster care and the law also states that termination of parental rights proceedings must begin for any child who has been in the care of a state agency for 15 out of the most recent 22 months. Exceptions may be made to this requirement if the child is in the care of a relative or for other compelling reasons.
The services offered by adoption lawyers vary from one attorney to the next. If you choose to work with an adoption attorney, you may need to take a more active role throughout the adoption process, and you may have to consult additional adoption professionals for some services not provided by your attorney. However, the right adoption attorney should be able to refer you to professionals that can assist you with these services.
Processing an adoption can be a scary prospect. For those who’ve never done it before, you don’t know what you don’t know. A lot is at stake and a lot can go wrong. Issues can crop up as new information comes to light. An experienced adoption attorney can anticipate and preclude these issues. A good adoption attorney will help preclude problems, issue spot risks and potential legal roadblocks, and manage the relationship with the biological family. An attorney is also able to help all parties find appropriate resources depending on their circumstances.
Future Focused – Adopting a child is a major life event, and one that will impact the lives of families and children for the foreseeable future. Even when a case is not contested or considered complicated, the process itself can be challenging. Ensuring all issues are promptly and correctly addressed is essential to establishing the legal parent-child relationship you have for the rest of your life, and to avoiding the possibility of complications arising in the future.
File the adoption petition. Once a child has been identified and the Home Study completed, your attorney will prepare and file the adoption petition with the court. The petition will identify you and your partner, the birth parents, consent to the adoption, and ask the court to grant the adoption. When the petition is filed, the court clerk will set it on the judge's calendar for an initial review.
An adoption lawyer will be knowledgeable on state- and country-specific adoption laws and provide guidance based on your situation, whether it be a private adoption, a step parent adoption, or if you’re a same sex couple wanting to adopt. A lawyer can prepare you for any hearings that may be required in the adoption process. In addition, your adoption attorney can represent you in court if there are legal complications, such as the birth parents changing their minds or trying to extort you.