If you choose an adoption attorney as your primary adoption professional, this is considered an independent adoption. In many independent adoptions, the birth parents and adoptive family find each other independently of an adoption professional’s screening and matching services. In some states, adoption lawyers are not legally allowed to perform these screening and matching services.
An adoption is a happy time in the life of the adopting family and in the life of the child being adopted. However, adoption is a complex and intricate area of family law. Adoption in Virginia is solely the product of statutory law and therefore compliance with all of the statutory requirements is a must to make the process proceed as seamlessly as possible. Adoptions can be stressful even at the best of times because of the legal hoops an adopting family must jump through even when an adoption is not contested. When there is conflict in an adoption, the stress levels can go through the roof. For these reasons, adoption is an area of law where it is almost always recommended that a skilled and experienced family attorney be involved.
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 laws of the state in which the child was adopted determine who has access to the original birth certificate or other adoption records, and whether those records are sealed (unavailable). For information about the law in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, see the: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/. This links to the Child Welfare Information League’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.
There are many methods available for finding an adoption attorney that is best for your specific situation. If you know of anyone who has been in a similar situation, ask him or her for referrals and contact information for the adoption attorney he or she used. You can also contact local adoption agencies. They should have a list of adoption attorneys they’ve worked with before. Consider joining and actively participating in a support group. This is another great way to receive contact information or adoption attorney referrals. And one of the easiest ways to receive contact information is through our professional directory. Your search can be state-specific and professional type-specific.
The finalization hearing, sometimes held in the judge's chambers, usually lasts less than an hour, and is attended by the adoptive parents, the child, the family's attorney, and a social worker from the child's agency. The judge may review the family's homestudy, ask questions, and generally attempt to ensure that the child is being placed in a safe, loving home.