Area of Law:
Adoption of a child gives the adopting parents all the rights and responsibilities of a legal biological parent. In fact, very often the court will use the phrase “as if the child was born into” to explain the new relationship.
However, prior to the new parental rights being established, there is an extensive legal process one must go through in order to cement the parent-child relationship in the eyes of the State. Although the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws enacted the Uniform Adoption Act (UAA) in 1994, this process can vary significantly from state to state.
Relinquishment and Consent
Before the adoptive parents may assume parental rights, the biological parents must either relinquish their parental rights or have them terminated by the court. In order to relinquish their rights, most states require that the consent be put in writing and either be executed in front of a judge or notarized.
In Washington, a number of parties must consent to the adoption before it can become final. It must be executed in writing and signed in front of one witness who is 18 or older. It also requires the following statements: consent is given subject to approval of the court, consent has no force or effect until approved by the court, the birth parent is not of Native American or Alaskan Native ancestry, and consent is revocable by the consenting party at any time before court approval. The consent must also contain either the adopting parent’s name or a statement of voluntary execution without the disclosure of the name of the adopting party.
Consent is required from the legal parents or guardian of the child. Additionally, if the child is age 14 or older, he or she must also present a written consent to the adoption. However, if the court finds that the adoption is in the best interests of the child due to parental unfitness, then no consent is required.
At the finalization hearing, the judge will review the circumstances of the child’s potential new home and determine whether to approve or disapprove of the petition to adopt, based on the best interests of the child. After review, if the judge deems the adoptive parents fit to raise the child, then the petition will be approved and an adoption decree will be issued.
This finalization hearing usually takes place within a year of the child being placed in the adoptive parents’ home. The parties who should be in attendance at the finalization hearing are the adoptive parents and adoptee, the attorney for the adoptive family, and the social worker who placed the child in the adoptive home.
In making his or her final judgment, the judge is likely to ask the adoptive parents simple questions about their home, their mindset, and their methods. As long as these answers are satisfactory, and the judge signs the adoptive order, this is the final formal step in the adoption process.
In most jurisdictions, the child’s name is legally changed and the court issues an amended birth certificate for the adopted child. On this birth certificate, the names of the biological parents are replaced with the adoptive parents’ and the child’s birth name is replaced with his or her new name in conjunction with the decree being issued. At the same time, all documents related to the adoption are sealed, along with the original birth certificate.
Where To Start
The first thing someone thinking about adopting should do is simply to educate himself or herself about the subject. Adoption is an involved and emotionally intense process that will go a lot smoother if the adoptive parent knows what to expect. William Gage’s website is a good starting point for its comprehensive recommended reading list.
Once you are ready to get the ball rolling, there are several adoption agencies in Washington that are there to help prospective adoptive parents through the process. Contact one of them and they will get you started on the road to adopting a child.