For a birth mother considering placing her child for adoption, the legal requirements may seem overwhelming and confusing. In fact, there are a number of laws that dictate the process, many of which vary from state to state. For birth parents, understanding the laws and the legal adoption process is an essential step towards making the best decision for you and your child.
The legal process of adoption is what transfers the permanent parent-child relationship from one party to another. Adoption provides the adoptive parents the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent, and bestows the title of a legal family member on the child. It is important to note that because adoption laws differ by state, this process may look different depending on the location of birth parents and adoptive parents.
However, this sequence of events is the typical process by which birth parent’s secure an adoption for their infant:
What Happens First?
The birth mother or the birth parents must voluntarily relinquish, or give up, their parental rights. Based on whether the birth parents are working with an adoption agency or a lawyer, the process may be a bit different. While this is not finalized until after the child is born, the early stages of the process include development of an adoption plan. An adoption plan is a formula for how the birth parents wish for the process to look, including which type of adoption they would like and the level of involvement they are interested in after the adoption is finalized.
After birth parents have contacted a lawyer or adoption agency, a series of steps will begin in order to secure a placement for the child. This includes the birth parent’s selection of an adoptive family. Once an adoptive family has been selected, state laws will dictate the following steps, all of which are in place to ensure the adoptive parents will be able to provide the child with a safe and healthy home. This may require tasks for the birth parents, including medical testing. The adoptive parents may experience a home study, where the couple is formally evaluated to determine their appropriateness as parents, along with caseworker evaluations, and a review of other reports.
The Final Steps
Once the birth has taken place, a judge will review the adoption case. It is at this time that the judge considers the birth parent’s application to relinquish their rights to the child, along with the information pertaining to the adoptive parents suitability. This court hearing, often called a “finalization,” is in many states the time when the dissolution of the birth parent’s rights and bestowing of the adoptive parent’s rights occurs. Depending on the specifics of the adoption, birth parents may or may not need to appear in court. Many agencies will host meetings within their facilities or take the paperwork to court without the presence of the birth parents.
Other Questions Birth Parents May Have About the Legal Process of Adoption
Do I need to tell my family about the adoption if I am under 18?
There is no legal requirement to inform a birth mother or birth father’s family about the adoption. However, family may offer a great deal of support, which is important for birth parents, particularly young birth parents.
What happens if my family opposes the adoption?
The only legal party who is able to oppose a birth mother’s decision to place a child for adoption is the birth father. The birth parent’s families cannot stop an adoption from occurring and have no role in the legal process. The only exception to this rule occurs within the United States’ Native American population, where separate rules apply.
Do I need to work with a lawyer or an agency?
There are many reasons it is advantageous for birth parents to work with a lawyer or an agency. The primary reason is that birth parents deserve someone who is concerned with their best interest and to insure their voices are heard and wishes are met. Both lawyers and agencies are able to provide education, resources, and support to birth parents, all of which is important during the process.
Will I have to pay for a lawyer or an agency?
Birth parents are not responsible for legal fees or agency fees. Adoptive parents are responsible for covering these costs.
If I’ve already signed the termination paperwork, can I change my mind?
A birth parent can change his or her mind about adoption up until the point that the parental rights have ended and an adoption decree has been instituted. This time will vary based on state, and may range from several days to several months.