Decide who you want to handle the legal side of your adoption. In a private adoption, the birth parents transfer their rights directly to the adoptive parents rather than the state or an adoption agency. However, the adoption is still governed by state law and there are many legal procedures and requirements you must meet for the adoption to be granted. Most adoptive parents work with an attorney to guide them through the process.
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 Gateway’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.
Adoption attorneys or adoption law firms are best for prospective birth mothers who have already identified an adoptive family and who feel they don’t need much adoption counseling and support. It is important to carefully consider the resources and services you’d like to have available before choosing an adoption attorney as your adoption professional.
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.
There are three types of non-agency adoptions: adult adoptions, stepparent adoptions and parental placement adoptions. Adult adoptions typically do not result in the conflict and controversy that can be created in the latter two types of adoptions. The rights of the biological parents are implicated in both stepparent adoptions and parental placement adoptions. If these types are done with the consent of the biological parents then their parental rights must be terminated before the child can be placed with the adoptive family. Further, in almost all parental placement adoptions, an investigation must be completed as regards the child’s biological parents, the prospective adoptive parent(s) and the home situation of the child. There may be hearings as well to determine the best interests of the child in both stepparent and parental placement adoptions. There can even be a full trial where there are disputes over parental rights, the best interest of the child and/or the qualifications of the adoptive parents. Above all else in an adoption, the entire process is governed by a quest for determining the best interests of the child.
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 birthparents and will preside over the finalization hearing and issue the adoption decree.
The process is detailed. If you don’t adhere to every particular in the process, you may get a rejected application, and you’ll incur added expenses. Most adoptive families do not have money to waste on unnecessary fees. Therefore, you need someone who will get it right the first time. Furthermore, adoption law differs from state-to-state. If you’re adopting in a state outside of your home, the laws could be different from what you expect. It’s better to hire an attorney.
Choose an attorney with experience in private adoptions. When you interview attorneys, ask if they are a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys or an equivalent state accreditation. If your attorney is not accredited, question her about her specific experience handling private adoptions. The AAAA maintains a directory of accredited adoption attorneys in the United States.