Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Where Are Adoption Cases Heard?

Adoption is a legal process for making a child a permanent member of a family other than the child's birth family. In order to formalize an adoption, the adoptive family must make its way through the legal process in a family court. The family court is under the jurisdiction of a court of law in the state where the adoption occurs.

The following article will help you better understand where adoption cases are heard.

Where Adoption Cases are Heard: Jurisdiction

Every state maintains a court system in which different courts are designated to hear specific types of cases. That designation is what is meant by the term "jurisdiction." For example, criminal cases will be tried in a state criminal court. Adoption is a civil procedure, and at the state court level, certain civil courts are given jurisdiction over adoption cases. A person who seeks to adopt a child must file their petition for adoption with the appropriate court.

Examples of Jurisdiction

State courts are organized in a hierarchy of courts of original jurisdiction. This is the level at which cases are first heard. Appellate courts hear cases that have been appealed from lower courts. The names given to these courts vary from state to state. All adoption cases commence with a petition filed with the appropriate court of original jurisdiction.

The types of court designated as the court of original jurisdiction reflect the organization of the state court system. The names can include:

  • Circuit Court (Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin);
  • District Court (Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico);
  • Superior Court (Alaska, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington, and Guam);
  • Probate Court (Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio);
  • Family Court (Delaware, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vermont);
  • Juvenile Court (Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, and Minnesota).

Some other names used are chancery (Mississippi and Tennessee), court of common pleas (Pennsylvania and Ohio), county (Nebraska), trial (Northern Mariana Islands), superior court (Virgin Islands), high court (American Samoa), and court of first instance (Puerto Rico).

Jurisdiction and Special Circumstances

In some states, more than one court may have jurisdiction over adoption cases. Either court designated in statute may hear an adoption petition. For example, in New York either the family court or surrogate's (probate) court has jurisdiction.

In some states, other courts may have jurisdiction over an adoption case under specific circumstances.

For example, in six states (AlabamaCaliforniaGeorgiaMassachusettsNebraska, and Utah) the juvenile court will have jurisdiction if the child to be adopted has previously been placed under that court's supervision, or if that court handled the case of termination of the parent's rights.

In Nevada and New Mexico, if the child to be adopted is an Native American child, a Tribal court may have jurisdiction over the case. The trial division of the high court has jurisdiction over contested adoptions in American Samoa.

Where Adoption Cases are Heard: Venue

Venue refers to the geographic location of the court that will hear the case. Most states maintain courts of all types located in different counties or districts throughout the state or territory.

Petitions for adoption are filed in the type of court that has the appropriate jurisdiction at the location (or venue) that is convenient to the parties involved in the case. In many cases, there may be a residency requirement. Venue options include the county where the person seeking to adopt (petitioner) and/or the child to be adopted resides, or where the child-placing agency is located.

Where Are Adoption Cases Heard? Find Out From an Attorney

The adoption process involves a number of legal requirements and a court process. The process may be complicated for most non-attorneys.

A legal professional experienced with a state's adoption laws can assist a person seeking to adopt in drafting the adoption petition. They can also help ensure that the petition is filed with the court having the appropriate jurisdiction and venue.

Find an experienced adoption attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options