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photo by Kai Dörner via Unsplash

The Process of Adopting a Child in the U.S.

April 21, 2021

by Kyle Persaud, guest contributor

Few people are happy to go through criminal prosecutions, divorces, or civil lawsuits, but adoption is different. Adoption is one of the few legal proceedings that is a joy for those involved. But, if you’re interested in adoption, you may wonder: What is it like to go through an adoption? 

First, a few disclaimers:
  1. This post will only discuss the legal process of adoption. It will not address other important issues, such as the psychological issues involved in a new child joining your family.
  2. Adoption is regulated largely by state law (though there are federal laws that apply to adoptions). Therefore, the adoption process is different in all 50 states. This article gives a general overview of adoption law, but some of the information here may not apply where you live. If you want to adopt a child, talk to a competent adoption attorney licensed in your state.
  3. Adoption law is extremely complicated. A post of this length can only scratch the surface of a matter as complicated as adoption. 

The Adoption Process

Find out which court has jurisdiction

All U.S. states except Massachusetts have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Massachusetts has introduced the UCCJEA in 2021. The UCCJEA governs jurisdictions in child custody cases, including adoptions. So, to find out which court has jurisdiction over your case, look to the UCCJEA.

Make sure you are eligible to adopt

In many states, the following persons may adopt a child:

  • A married couple
  • An unmarried person at least 21
  • A stepparent
  • A married person at least 21, who is separated from his or her spouse.

In many states, people convicted of certain crimes (such as child abuse) may not adopt a child.

Obtain the consent of the biological parents, or, if consent is not required, obtain a court order terminating the parental rights of the biological parent

Typically, a biological parent must consent to adoption. Some exceptions exist if a parent has abandoned the child, failed to pay child support, has abused the child or a sibling of the child, or has been convicted of certain crimes. If the biological parent will not consent to the adoption, you will have to ask a judge to determine that consent is not necessary. To adopt without consent, you will have to get a court hearing, and give the parent notice of the hearing. At the hearing, the parent will be allowed to argue that you cannot adopt the child without his or her consent. You may argue that one or more of the exceptions exist and you don’t need the parent’s consent. A judge will then decide whether you may adopt the child without the biological parent’s consent.

Check if the child is Native American

If the child is 

  • A member of an Native American tribe, or
  • Eligible for membership in an American Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe

then the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that you notify all Indian tribes in which the child is eligible for membership; you must also notify the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Indian tribe or the BIA may choose to intervene in the case, and may also seek to have the case transferred to tribal court.

File a petition to adopt, in court

In most legal proceedings, you have to file a petition to begin the case. Adoption is no different; you must file a petition for adoption. If a biological parent has not consented to the adoption, you may have to file an application to adopt without consent at the same time you file the petition. 

Complete a home study

In most adoption cases, a licensed professional (such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor) must complete a study on your home and family, and file a report of the study with the court.

Compile a medical and social history report

In some states, you, or a professional or a child-placing agency, will have to file a medical and social history report on the child’s family background. You must file this report with the court.

Ask the judge to set a final adoption hearing

After you have completed all the requirements, you’re ready for a final hearing. Ask the judge to schedule a final hearing. Go to the hearing, and, once the judge has signed the decree of adoption, you now have a new child in your family! You may have to record the decree with your state’s health department (or whichever agency handles vital statistics).

Welcome a Child Home: Love with Adoption

Recently, I was at a bar meeting, and I sat at a table with a group of lawyers telling stories about their adoption cases. This was one of the best collections of stories I have ever heard. Adopting a child can be a loving act to perform. If you’ve decided that adoption is what you’d like to do, go for it.

Guest Writer

Founder of Persaud Law Office in Bartlesville, OK, Kyle Persaud is an experienced attorney who practices in adoption law and a variety of other legal areas. Mr. Persaud primarily serves Washington County (OK), but also court cases throughout the state of Oklahoma. He is a lifelong resident of Bartlesville and received his law degree from University of Tulsa.

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