All adoptions, whether handled by an agency or done independently, must be approved by a court. The adoptive parents must file an adoption petition — basically a request for approval — with the court and go through an adoption hearing.
Before the adoption hearing, anyone who is required to consent to the adoption must receive notice. Usually this includes the biological parents, the adoption agency, the child's legal representative if a court has appointed one and the child himself if he is old enough (12 to 14 years old in most states). States vary on the particular notice requirements, so check your state's laws.
A standard adoption petition will generally include this basic information:
- the names, ages, and residence address of the adoptive parents
- the name, age, and legal parentage of the child to be adopted
- the relationship between the adoptive parents and the child to be adopted, such as blood relative or stepparent
- the legal reason that the birthparents' rights are being terminated (the reason usually being that they consented to the termination)
- a statement that the adoptive parents are the appropriate people to adopt the child, and
- a statement that the adoption is in the child's best interests.
The written consents of the birthparents or the court order terminating their parental rights may be filed along with the petition. Adoptive parents also often include a request for an official name change for the child.
Adoption Hearing and Order
At the adoption hearing, if the court determines that the adoption is in the child's best interest, the judge will issue an order approving and finalizing the adoption. This order, often called a final decree of adoption, legalizes the new parent-child relationship, and usually changes the child's name to the name the adoptive parents have chosen.
If you do not use an agency in your adoption, you will definitely need to hire a lawyer experienced in adoptions. Even if you do use an agency, you may need to hire a lawyer to draft the adoption petition and to represent you at the hearing. Although there is no legal requirement that a lawyer be involved in an adoption, the process can be quite complex and should be handled by someone with experience and expertise. When seeking a lawyer, find out how many adoptions he or she has handled, and whether any of them were contested or developed other complications.
Copyright © 2006 Nolo