If you are planning on adopting a child, you may need an adoption lawyer. This particularly goes for adopting privately rather than from state foster care. Wait times are often shorter for younger children and infants (although they can be longer for older children). If you want to learn more about the role of an adoption lawyer, keep reading.
What do Adoption Lawyers do?
An adoption lawyer will help you throughout the entire adoption process. They can help you find the right agency, especially if you are a non-traditional family (some adoption agencies are religious in nature and will only adopt to heterosexual married couples). They can also help you pursue an independent adoption and can assist in intrafamily adoptions, such as adopting your niece if something were to happen to her parents.
The lawyer will prepare the paperwork for you, attend any necessary court appearances, and make sure you comply with your state’s laws and requirements. While it’s absolutely possible to pursue adoption without a lawyer, there are pitfalls along the way which could lead you to losing the child, even after you’ve already painted the nursery.
A private adoption is one in which the birth parents or birth mother voluntarily places their child, and they often choose the family. Adoption agencies assist the process by helping prospective families find birth parents with a suitable child. This differs from public adoption, where children are adopted from foster care. Public adoption can be a fast way to adopt an older child, but infants are less likely to end up in foster care.
Most private adoptions do go through agencies, but it’s also possible to do a completely independent adoption. Most often these are intrafamily, or with friends and family the parents know. Independent adoption is not available to everyone and can be a lot cheaper, however, it’s even more important to seek legal counsel, especially if friendships are at stake. It’s also worth considering an open adoption in these cases, which requires a more complicated legal arrangement to ensure that the child’s best interests are preserved. An attorney can advise on whether an adoption should be open or closed.
Sometimes you may have to look further in finding the right child. Adopting a child across state lines is more complicated, (even when in some cases ‘across state lines’ can be a very short distance) because of something called the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children. This was put into place to protect children from being moved because of a shortage of foster care placements, but extends to adoptions.
Because of the complicated requirements (which can result in the new family having to stay in the child’s state for days or even weeks), it’s very important to have a qualified adoption attorney with experience in interstate adoptions. Additionally, every state has different laws on interstate adoption. Both the laws of the sending state and of the receiving state apply.
This may mean that your attorney will have to work with one in the sending state. In many adoptions, the birth family’s lawyer or the agency will be able to help with this, but it can’t be guaranteed. You may also have a choice as to which state to file your adoption petition in, and a good attorney will advise you on the best choice in terms of feeds, revocation periods, etc. In other cases, the laws of the states involved may require that you file in one state or the other. It can get very complicated, which is why it’s important to hire a good lawyer to help you keep everything straight.
For an adoption to go forward, the birth parents’ parental rights have to be terminated or the birth parents have to consent to the adoption. For most private or agency adoptions, termination is voluntary. Keep in mind that a birth parent can change their mind at any time prior to signing the papers, and for a short time afterward as well. Involuntary termination generally results in the child being placed in foster care or being placed with another family member adoption is often encouraged when possible. In some states a parent may apply for their parental rights to be reinstated, but this generally doesn’t happen after adoption, however, North Carolina is not one of those states. Only a juvenile whose parent’s rights have been terminated, the guardian ad litem attorney, or a county department of social services with custody of the juvenile may file a motion to reinstate the parent’s rights if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The juvenile is at least 12 years of age or, if the juvenile is younger than 12, the motion alleges extraordinary circumstances requiring consideration of the motion.
(2) The juvenile does not have a legal parent, is not in an adoptive placement, and is not likely to be adopted within a reasonable period of time.
(3) The order terminating parental rights was entered at least three years before the filing of the motion unless the court has found or the juvenile’s attorney advocate and the county department of social services with custody of the juvenile stipulate that the juvenile’s permanent plan is no longer adoption.
One of the key tasks of an adoption lawyer is to ensure that the birth parents’ parental rights have been properly terminated or their consent has been lawfully obtained and properly executed and that there is no question about the legality of the adoption. TPR is an important part of the process, and if it is not completed, the birth parents could potentially reclaim their child.
The most stressful circumstance is a contested adoption. This most often happens when one parent wants to put the child up for adoption, but the other doesn’t. Most often the mother will try to get the child adopted, and the father might change his mind and want to keep the child. Another situation is when the birth father does agree, but DNA testing reveals the child is not biologically his. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that these things don’t come out until the adoption process has already begun, entangling the prospective adoptive parents in the mess.
In some cases, the best answer may be to walk away and start again, as a contested adoption can be emotionally draining, not to mention the potential court and attorney fees. In others, it may be worth contesting the adoption. The judge will always consider the best interests of the child. If the birth father is able to prevent his parental rights from being terminated, then the court would likely award immediate custody in his favor. In North Carolina, NCGS 7B-1111 sets out the grounds that would allow a court to terminate a parent’s rights. For example, if he abandons the mother and child for a year or more, then he will most likely not be allowed to object.
It’s wise to make sure you have as much information as possible about your child’s father, and you should do due diligence in trying to locate him. You should also communicate with him ahead of time, which may give you a better chance to avoid a contested adoption, or alternatively, help you make the decision not to pursue. This is another thing an adoption lawyer can help with, and if it does end up in court they will argue the case on your behalf.
Adoption lawyers help prospective parents through the entire process, like finding an agency to finalize the adoption. It’s vital for prospective parents to have a good lawyer who specializes in adoption law as a practice, so that they can get through things smoothly and with minimal stress. If you are looking for an adoption lawyer that can help you through the process, contact Apple Payne Law today.