Updated: Nov 3
The adoption process consists of six fundamental steps leading to the adoption decree. While
these steps are clear-cut, their achievement can be difficult and sometimes prolonged. It is the
practical role of an adoption agency to arrange, conduct and oversee each of these steps. In an independent adoption, the initiative rests much more directly upon the potential adopters and their attorney (thus, the skills and standards of the attorney are very important).
Finding an adoptable child
Finding an adoptable child can be difficult and discouraging. Before starting the search for an adoptable child, talk with successful adopters and learn from their experiences. If you choose to use an agency (and you meet its qualifications), the agency will attempt to find a child for you. Independent adoption requires you to find an adoptable child through your own devices.
Terminating the legal rights of the natural parent(s)
Before a child is legally eligible for adoption, the court must terminate the legal relationship between the child and the natural parents. The process of terminating these rights varies from state to state. Some states require a court appearance of the natural parent(s); others will accept a notarized statement of relinquishment. Adoption services generally handle this task for their clients. In independent adoptions, the responsibility usually rests with the adopters’ attorney, who must be alert to the rights of the natural parents (for example, care must be exercised that the natural parents do not feel coerced into giving up the child).
Most states require a home study as a prerequisite for adoption. The purpose of a home study is to determine the applicant’s ability to provide love, care and safety for a child. A home study usually consists of several interviews with the applicants (at the agency and/or at the
applicant’s home). During these interviews, the applicants provide information that will help
determine their qualifications to adopt a child. In agency adoptions, an agency caseworker
usually conducts a home study. In independent adoptions, a home study made by a licensed
professional (at the adopter’s expense) is required by the court. Fees for home studies vary.
Placing a child in an adoptive home
Placement of a child in an adoptive home may differ according to the source and the age of a child. Placement may be faster in an independent adoption than an agency adoption. Placement of a newborn or infant also may be faster than for an older child. With an older child, there may be several meetings, perhaps even one or more overnight stays, as the parties get to know each other before making a decision. The placement becomes official when the adopters sign a “placement agreement” and the child takes up residence with them.
After placement, most agencies and courts require a probationary period
before finalizing the adoption. This precautionary measure helps the adopters and the child
decide if they are compatible and helps the court determine if the placement is appropriate. In
adoptions arranged by an agency, an agency caseworker will make periodic calls to see how
things are going. In independent adoptions, the court may require routine visits by an authorized agent. If all goes well, the agency or the adopter’s attorney will petition the court to issue an adoption decree at the end of the probationary period.
Securing the adoption decree
An adoption decree is a formal statement issued by the court that an adoptee is legally the child of the adopters, who then have all the rights and responsibilities of natural parents. In some cases, depending upon the age of the child, his or her consent may be required by the court. The decree also assures the child’s rights to inherit property from the adopter(s) and to secure social security benefits. The issuance of the adoption decree usually takes place informally in the privacy of the judge’s chambers.*
*Adapted from our book, Adoption in America: What You Need to Know BEFORE You Adopt