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Adoption Law

At Lawyer Legion we created a directory of adoption law attorneys. Search by state, city, or zip code. The profiles of these attorneys focused on adoption law have information on the attorney's membership and leadership in legal organizations related to family law, speaking engagements at quality CLE seminars, and participation in specialty certification programs.

Families and partners adopt children for different reasons. Adoption is the process by which an individual or family can have a legally respected and recognized family relationship with a child.

Definition of Adoption Law

The legal definition of the term "adoption law" is the practice of law dealing with the legalities of intrastate, interstate, and international adoptions. Issues include the termination of the biological parents' rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and interstate placements of children.

Adoption is a court procedure that permits an adult to become the legal parents of someone who is not the adult's biological child. Once an adoption decree becomes final, it creates a parent-child relationship that is valid for all legal purposes including, inheritance rights, custody and child support. Under limited circumstances, an adult can adopt another adult.

Procedural and substantive issues in adoption law usually follow state law. Adoption law deals with legal issues that arise at each state of the adoption process from the actual placement of the child to resolving issues that arise prior to the adoption and all post placement proceedings. In many states, the practice of adoption law relies on procedural and statutory laws that are specific to that state. The specific procedures to adopt a child vary from state to state.

Family Adoption

Family adoption is the process by which a non-parent seeks to adopt a child who has some existing legal relationship such as an aunt and uncle, a grandparent or an elder sibling. As a result of the existing family relationship, this method is among the easiest.

Step-Parent Adoptions

Step-Parent adoptions are quite common. A second marriage will often give rise to an opportunity to adopt the child or children of a new spouse. While this type of adoption will qualify for expedited consideration in many states, the parent seeking the adoption must seek and obtain the Consent for Adoption from the biological parent of the child.

In some cases the biological parent is deceased or may have already had their parental rights terminated. If these rights have not previously terminated, the consent form has the legal effect of terminating those parental rights. If the consent for adoption is obtained, the step parent adoption qualifies for expedited adoption in many states.

Same-Sex Adoptions

Although not a ‘type’ of adoption, same-sex couples are currently seeking and being recognized as potential adoptive parents in many states. In many states same-sex partners seeking to adopt are entitled to apply for adoption using the expedited process.

International Adoptions

International adoptions are another way to adopt a child. As a result of the international nature of the process, there are several international treaties which seek to make sure that all interested parties have been involved in and approve of the adoption. International adoptions can be done direct, with the child’s family or through an adoption agency which specializes in international adoptions.

International adoptions are difficult because the adoptive parents must satisfy the adoption requirements in both countries. Once that is complete, the adoptive parents must work through American immigration to obtain special travel visas and then citizenship for the adopted child.

In recent years there have been some noteworthy international adoption issues with parental mistreatment treatment of foreign born, adopted children and violence by adoptive children against adoptive parents. As a result of these events, international adoptions now require that certain additional requirements be met including counseling and other procedures to make sure of the integrity of the foreign component of the adoption process.

Private or Independent Adoptions

In a private adoption, individual parties find each other and contract with each other for an adoption. Once the relationship is established, the parties retain the services of an adoption professional such as a lawyer who can then assist the parties to make certain that all requirements have been addressed and met. Private adoptions are not permitted in several states.

Agency Adoptions

The benefit of an agency adoption is that the agency has a relationship with certain governmental agencies which have children who are actively seeking or are up for adoption. The agency plays a central role in making sure that the adoptive parents are suitable parents and that all of the parties to the adoption have undergone appropriate counseling.

The agencies undertake to screen and evaluate the parents who seek to adopt for various reasons such as age, health or other social or behavioral reasons. Some agencies specialize in special needs adoptions. Special needs can mean ill or disabled children but it also includes sibling groups who desire to remain together and intact.

What is the home study?

In all adoptions, the goal is to submit an adoption petition and have it approved by the court. The ideal adoptions is where the best parents get matched to the most appropriate children. Home study requirements vary from state to state. In order for the court to approve an adoption, all of the requirements of that state’s adoption laws and rules must be met and fully satisfied.

The overall goal of an adoption law is to place the right children with the right adoptive parents. In evaluating adoptive parents, one of the tools which many courts look at is a home study. In a routine home study, the adoptive parents are looked at for a criminal history, financial stability, health and medical issues.

Some families seeking adoption already have their own biological children so interaction with other children in the household may be studied. A good home study always involves a thorough background check. Essentially the home study weeds out those who are not appropriate adoptive parents.

What happens at the adoption hearing?

Once all of the details are taken care of an Adoption Petition will be filed with the court in the adoptive parent’s jurisdiction. The home study, if necessary will have been completed and filed with the court. All of the proper parental consents and agency approvals, if any, are complete and filed with the court.

Present at the hearing will be the child, legal counsel, possibly an agency representative and the adoptive parents. The judge will make inquiry and take testimony if necessary. Once the court finds all of the paperwork to be in order and if questions arise, they are all addressed, the judge will sign a judgment of adoption. One of the features of the adoption is that the child’s name is changed to that of the adoptive parents so all future legal and medical records will reflect the new, adoptive name. A new birth certificate is generally issued and the court files are sealed.

What happens if the parents who placed the child for adoption change their minds?

In adoptions where the adoptive parents and the birth mother seek to complete an adoption, there are situations where the birth mother will give birth and the adoption is completed. After the adoption is complete, the birth mother may seek to change her mind and seek to recover her parental rights. The process is different from state to state.

If the adoption is not completed, no adoption will occur and monies paid to the birth mother may not be recovered. If the adoption is complete, the legal process would involve a judicial challenge to the adoption. The process involves the judicial revocation of the consent for adoption by the birth mother or biological parents. The rules regarding revocation of consent vary from state to state.

Hiring a Lawyer for an Adoption

The skills typically utilized by a lawyer who specializes in adoptions and family law are general trial practice, the rules of evidence, insurance law and contract law. Lawyers who practice in the field of adoption appear before judges and magistrates in state courts. Some adoptions require working with foreign agencies and the State Department for international adoptions.

The purpose of the state bar standards in establishing certifications in specialties such as family or matrimonial trial law is to educate the public that certain lawyers have demonstrated an advanced proficiency and have special knowledge in the field of the certification. This certification distinguishes the lawyer as having an advanced level of experience and expertise.

Board Certified Specialist in Adoption Law

Most states do not offer board certification programs for adoption law. Lawyers who focus on representing parties who are seeking to adopt a child are generally family or matrimonial lawyers.

In a few states, adoption law is often considered a specialty area of the law that is eligible for certification. For instance, the State of Florida offers specialty certification in "Adoption Law." In order to earn the certification, attorneys must have at least 5 years of experience with at least 50% of the attorney's practice devoted to adoption law during each of those five years. The attorney must have attended a certain number of continuing legal education (CLE) seminars related to the practice area, as well as provide reference from other attorneys and judges who can attest to the attorneys experience and competency in the practice area.

To be considered a board certified specialist in adoption law in Florida, the attorney must show "substantial involvement" in the practice area including a minimum number of adoption placements in circuit courts during the five year period. Those placements must involve the placement of a minor child with an adoptive family who is not related to the child within the third degree of consanguinity or is not the minor child's stepparent. Alternatively, the attorney must show substantial involvement in a minimum number of contested adoption proceedings or appeals within the 5 year period.

For certification as a specialist in adoption law, the term "substantial involvement" includes:

  • active participation in interviewing and counseling adoptive parents;
  • investigating issues necessary to assure a legally stable adoption placement;
  • providing legally mandated disclosure to the legal or biological parents of the child;
  • taking consents for adoption;
  • providing notice to individuals legally entitled to notice of the adoption proceeding;
  • providing full disclosure to adoptive parents regarding applicable law and the subject minor child;
  • preparation of pleadings related to the adoption proceeding;
  • preparation of interstate adoption documentation;
  • attendance at hearings;
  • presentation of evidence in a termination of parental rights and adoption proceedings; and
  • drafting and preparation of post placement communication agreements.

Finding the Right Adoption Law Attorney

When choosing an attorney for an adoption case. consider whether the attorney devotes a signification portion of his or her practice to adoption cases. At Lawyer Legion we created our directory of family law attorneys to help the public find a qualified attorney in a variety of practice areas including adoption law.

We rank attorneys according to the focus of their legal practice, their membership and leadership in organizations related to criminal defense, and other objective criteria.