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What Is Adoption Law?

Definition of Adoption Law

Adoption law consists of an extensive body of international, federal, and state laws governing the adoption process. Whether adoptive families choose private adoption or go through the foster care system, all parties must obey adoption law.

Parents attempting to adopt may need an adoption attorney for some cases. Adoption agencies may have their own attorneys to provide legal services. Prospective parents should consider consulting a family law attorney for a successful adoption, even if they do not hire one.

Types of Adoption Laws

Adoptions happen for many reasons. A child's birth parents may be unable or unwilling to care for their child. The court may terminate parental rights if the biological parents are incarcerated or unfit. When a parent remarries, the stepparent may adopt the stepchild with the birth parent's consent.

  • State adoption laws govern adoptions within each state. States have their own requirements concerning family member adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and foster parent adoption. State laws regulate adoption agencies within each state.
  • Federal adoption laws provide general guidelines for domestic adoption. States must create their own laws based on federal guidelines. Federal laws regulate international adoptions and oversee adoption tax legislation.
  • International adoption laws regulate overseas adoptions. Adopting a child from a foreign country is a complex process requiring both nations' adoption services and attorneys.

Types of Adoptions

The adoption process takes different forms, depending on the roles of the parents and the agencies.

  • Closed adoption or confidential adoption - The birth parents and adoptive parents do not meet. The adoptee cannot access the adoption records after the adoption.
  • Open adoption - The birth parents and adoptive parents have contact with one another before and after the adoption. Sometimes the adoptive parents provide medical or financial support for the birth mother. Also called cooperative adoption.
  • Private adoption - An adoption arranged between two parties without an agency or adoption professional. Some states do not allow private adoptions. Also called independent adoption.
  • Public adoptions - Carried out through the social services department or foster care system. Older children, siblings, and special-needs children are often placed this way.

Other Adoption Laws

Other regulations affect adoption cases in the United States. If you are considering adoption or foster care, you should get legal advice from an adoption law firm or social welfare agency.

  • Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires tribal involvement in placing a Native child in foster care or adoption. Each tribe or nation has its own regulations for placement.
  • Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption - The Hague Convention is an international treaty that governs how prospective adoptive parents can adopt children from other countries. It protects parents and children in the home country and the United States.

Terms to Know

When you begin the adoption process, you may encounter other terms and legal jargon associated with adoptions. These are some useful terms and phrases you may see.

  • Adoptee - The adoptive child.
  • Adult adoption - The adoption of an adult. Sometimes done instead of legal guardianship for adult special-needs patients.
  • Adoption plan - The formal process of adopting a child. Includes background and financial checks on the prospective parents, home studies, and finalization of the adoption.
  • Birth parent - The genetic mother or father of a child.
  • Family adoption - When a family member adopts a child. A grandmother may adopt her daughter's children if the daughter is unavailable.
  • Foster care adoption - Adoption from foster care. Some states have restrictions on foster care adoptions.
  • Foster parent - An adult who acts as a parent or guardian without adopting the child.
  • Home study - A study of the adoptive parent's home to determine the household's suitability for the adopted child. Social workers visit the home on one or more occasions to assess the environment and family relationships.
  • Termination of parental rights - A legal process that ends a parent's rights and obligations.

For more definitions of related legal terms, visit the Glossary of Adoption Terms.

Hiring an Adoption Lawyer

If you decide to retain an adoption attorney, have some questions ready to help you choose the best one. An adoption agency may have its own attorney to handle the paperwork, but you may want your own to review the documents for you.

Local adoption agencies sometimes work with prospective birth mothers to ensure good families adopt their babies. These agencies partner with local attorneys specializing in adoption law. Legal aid centers can provide prospective adoptive parents with referrals to these agencies.

If you are facing a legal issue related to adoption, contact an adoption lawyer. They can help you understand your legal options and protect your rights.

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